Under Exposed

Is the Facekini the Future of Beachwear?

Women come closer to breaking through the glass ceiling every day. But in one area, they seem to have regressed: bathing attire is starting to look positively Victorian.

Aly Song/Reuters

One of the most bizarre (if not terrifying) trends in fashion as of late is the “facekini,” a nylon head mask that protects the face from the harmful rays of sun exposure. The wrestling worthy accessory is a bit of a misnomer—there is no cheekily exposed skin in this full-coverage contraption. Its point, it seems based on a CR Fashion Book spread, is to allow it’s poolside wearers to “soak up as little sun as possible.” Similarly, Madonna, the queen of sex appeal and historically risqué fashion statements, was caught spending her beach days in Ibiza covered head to toe in a zebra-patterned kaftan and oversized hat.

Women fought for centuries to shake off the full-coverage bathing costume and be able to show a little skin. Now, it seems, a fear of the sun is starting to send them scurrying back to the Victorian styles of centuries past.

Madonna’s Ibiza guise recalls the outfits at the turn of the 20th century, when strict modesty laws required women to wear long swimming garments and stockings while they frolicked on the beach. Just like the singer, these women covered almost every inch of their skin, until some began rebelling against the restricting designs.

In 1908, professional swimmer and actress Annette Kellerman, who is regarded as the first woman to wear the fitted one-piece costume in public, was arrested for indecent exposure while modeling the new, and apparently scandalous, style. Years later, even after women gained the right to vote, female beachgoers were still being cuffed for wearing their one-piece costumes.

Slowly but surely, fabric was stripped away a little at a time and more skin started peeking out. In the 1930s, women took to the water in two-pieces that allowed for comfort and style while still remaining modest. In the 60s, the top crept up, revealing the naval for the first time. Then, the sexual revolution exploded and women left their tops in the sand altogether.

Along with the change in swimming fashion came a change in the standards of beauty. Tans were no longer a sign of the working class. The rich and famous jetted off to exotic destinations, while those stuck at home reclined poolside to obtain the perfect shade of bronze. For years, the mantra was the tanner the better.

And then science struck.

The sun was no longer a fashionista’s best friend. Studies revealed that exposure to harmful UV rays could cause wrinkles and other signs of aging, as well as skin cancer. With that, many former beach lovers have begun to fear that even limited exposure to the rays could result in a sunspot blemish or crow’s feet. “I swear that mole wasn’t there yesterday” rings in our heads.

According to recent studies, 80 percent of skin aging is a result of UV rays. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has seen a 200 percent increase in cases since 1973. The irony in it all is that our bodies need, if not crave, Vitamin D—and more than a chewable tablet. The sun’s rays (as deadly as they can be) also reduce the risk of ovarian, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers by half.

Yet, for many the positives just don’t outweigh the negatives. There has been a movement among many Asian cultures to avoid the sun at all cost for years. The facekini is just one of the many sun-protecting trends born in the East, where “beauty-seekers are more likely to center their [summer beauty routines] around lightening and brightening,” as explained in the CR Fashion Book editorial, preserving a porcelain skin tone. “A tan does not signify a chic trip to Capri, but it could mean hours of hard labor spent out in the harsh sun” where overexposed skin bears wrinkles and sunspots.

But even when it comes to less extreme accessories, it seems every beauty product has been given a sun-approved makeover these days. SPF is in our moisturizers, lip balms, eye creams, and make-up. Less people are going topless, instead choosing to cover up, even going so far as to wear long-sleeved SPF tops to avoid UV rays, and preserve their skin.

But for some, even that’s not enough. The facekini has provided the final piece to looking truly miserable at the beach.

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Madonna can keep her patterned caftan, and the models can enjoy their facemasks. I, for one, will be sticking with high-strength sunblock and a giant umbrella. Nothing will keep me from feeling the sand on my back and the sun on my face. But maybe I do have a facekini future…after all, Halloween is just around the corner.