Oh, please! Part of AfterElton.com’s coverage of the 2008 Summer
Olympics is an article on Speedos? How shameless can we be?
But surely it’s a fact that for many gay and bisexual men, at
least part of the appeal of the Summer Olympics is the endless parade of young,
handsome, fit swimmers, divers, and water-polo players in this most form-fitting
and revealing item of male attire. And then they get wet!
Hey, we never claimed to be ESPN.
Where did Speedo-type swimming suits come from? What do the
athletes themselves think about them? And — the most important question of all —
how much can we stretch the text of this article so as to include as many
pictures as possible of hot men in their Speedos?
For almost all of human history, most men swam naked. And
while the Ancient Greeks did not include a swimming competition in humankind’s
first Olympic events, they did famously perform all their athletic competitions
in the nude.
According to National
Geographic, “The nude athletes would parade like peacocks up and down the
stadium. Poets would write in a shaky hand these wonderful odes to the bodies
of the young men, their skin the color of fired clay. But other cultures, like
the Persians and the Egyptians, looked at these Greek men oiling one another
down and writhing in the mud, and found it very strange. They believed it
promoted sexual degeneracy.”
If the gay male reaction to diver Alexandre Despatie’s nearly-naked body during the
last Summer Olympic Games is any indication, the Persians and Egyptians had a
In fact, the world’s first Speedo-like item of clothing probably
wasn’t a swimsuit at all; it was most likely an undergarment. In 1991,
archeologists discovered the frozen remains of “Otzi,” a man who lived
in the Alps back in 3300 B.C. He was wearing a
leather loincloth under his cloak.
The Ancient Egyptians likewise wore loincloths — including King
Tut, whose priests had considerately included some in his tomb. Perhaps Mama
Tut worried that her young son would have a chariot accident in the afterlife
and wanted to make sure he had clean undies on just in case.
And all those paintings and sculptures of Jesus wearing a
loincloth while nailed to the cross? Probably somewhat historically accurate. Historians
are still divided, however, as to whether or not Jesus had such killer abs.
Some cultures traditionally swam in their undergarments, and
for the Japanese, that meant the fundoshi, which is a cross between a loincloth
and a g-string. In short, this may have been as close as historical man got to
the modern Speedo!
Next Page! Mark Tewksbury has nothing to hide!
Modesty Prevails — for
While some of the murals at the ruins of Pompeii show people
wearing eerily modern-looking swim suits, the first dedicated swimwear since
Roman times dates to Victorian England in the 19th century. Not
surprisingly, that swimwear reflected the mores of that very repressed era and kept
as much skin covered as was humanly possible. Think Kate Jackson in the original Charlie’s Angels.
Victorian era bathing suit
Fortunately for the world, swimwear has been doing a
disappearing act ever since. The name “Speedo” was introduced in 1928 — the
company’s slogan was “speed on in your Speedos” — but the swimsuits in question
were nothing like the ones for which the company would later become famous.
When future-Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller won big at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, he
wore the style of the time: form-fitting trunks and accompanying
wifebeater-like chest piece.
Future Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller at the
In 1936, the Australian Olympic swim team made waves when
the entire team wore a “new” trunk design that completely bared the chest.
Men’s swimwear grew increasingly skimpy and soon imitated
the famous “brief” underwear that grew wildly in popularity after its
introduction in 1935. The turning point came in 1955 when Speedo introduced its
first nylon swimwear. At the Melbourne Olympics the following year, all the
swimmers were wearing new suits in the classic “Speedo” style.
Suddenly gay and bisexual male spectators everywhere were practicing
the Speedo-induced art of phrenology-with-the-eyes.
“It never really
impacted me personally during my career, but I know thousands of gay men
watched me swim largely for the aesthetic and not for the athletic prowess!” says
out Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury, a three-time Olympic medalist (including
gold, at the 1992 Barcelona games)
For competitive swimmers, this new suit was a natural
choice: nylon was much lighter than previous suits, and the Speedo was tighter,
allowing for less drag in the water (more or less important, depending on the
goods of the swimmer in question).
But these young, handsome competitive swimmers were starting
a trend that would spread to pools and beaches world-wide. Soon there were
countless imitators — and regardless of brand, most people referred to these
suits by the trademarked name of the product originator: as “Speedos.”
And the angels sang.
Next Page! Mario Lopez’s white trunks get wet!
Speedos are GAY GAY
As the decades rolled on, Speedo-type swimwear continued to
grow in popularity even among the casual swimmer — not for aesthetic reasons,
but for practical ones: in addition to providing more “support,” Speedos dry
quickly, provide for a better tan line, and allow for a better range of motion
For most of the world, Speedos still remain the swimsuit of
choice for most men today. In Australia where they’re particularly popular,
they’re called sluggos, banana hammocks, or budgie smugglers. And
you’d make a fool out of yourself wearing baggy trunks on a beach in Brazil.
As with the metric system, the rest of the world is wearing
Speedos because it’s just the most logical suit choice.
But the United States? Well, not so logical. The 1970s saw
the start of a major Speedo backlash. Why? The growing sexualization of men’s
bodies, and of the Speedo in particular. While the media certainly played up
the rise of male sex symbols, in particular athletes like Joe Namath and the
Speedo-clad Mark Spitz, it didn’t take long for the public to realize that it
wasn’t just heterosexual women who were appreciating their bodies.
From left to right: Mark Spitz, Jim Palmer, Joe Namath
This was too much for Puritanical, homophobic American men.
It was one thing for straight men to sexualize bikinis, “camel toes,” and the
female form; but what was good for the goose was certainly not good for the uptight
“Canada faces the
same small-mindedness,” says Tewksbury. “In high school, my picture was
in the paper with my Speedo on, and I never heard the end of it! Europe
is completely different. They just don’t have the same hang-ups with
nudity or sexuality that we have in North America.”
In any event, Speedos were suddenly “gay.” And it wasn’t
just heterosexual men making the association; straight women began to think of Speedos
as gay too, sometimes complaining that they were “too much information.”
Interestingly, this has never been a problem for the gay and bisexual suit enthusiast.
Straight North American men gravitated en masse to trunks
and board shorts — the baggier the better, to the point where they’ve now reached
ridiculous proportions. The suits make no sense as actual swimwear, but they do
accomplish the desired function, which was to completely hide all evidence of “the
junk” from public view, even when wet. (Fortunately for the world, Mario Lopez
trunks, which become semi-transparent when wet.)
“You can’t bring sexy back in a Speedo,” Justin Timberlake said
recently, despite the fact that he wore one (for comic effect) in The Love Guru.
Justin Timberlake in a scene from The Love Guru (2008)
Next Page! Greg Louganis holds a grudge! And Ricky Martin’s Speedo verses Arnold’s!
Not even all gay people are fans of the suit or its
major manufacturer. “After being lied to and dumped by Speedo, I have
difficulty saying anything nice about the company,” out diving champion Greg
Louganis tells AfterElton.com. But when asked to elaborate, he declines.
Greg Louganis at the 1988 Olympics
Photo credit: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
In fairness, some of the reason for the anti-Speedo backlash
probably resulted from the stereotype that people who don’t have the bodies for
Speedos wear them anyway. Ultimately, this may simply be the price that must be
paid for the beauty that is the Speedo: for every paparazzi shot of a scantily-clad
Ricky Martin, there is a similarly undressed Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ricky Martin (left) & Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sadly, in competitive swimming circles, the classic
briefs-style Speedo is quickly becoming a thing of the past. In the 1980s and
1990s companies such as Speedo introduced the “drag suit” — baggy trunk-like
suits that were specifically designed to create more resistance in the water.
They’re usually worn during workouts to increase stamina, but swimmers still wore
the Speedo in competitions.
That changed in the late 1990s, when Speedo introduced half
and full body suits. By outward appearances, they’re not that different from
the style worn by Weissmuller and others back in the 1920s. But they’re actually
very different, made out of new fabrics that supposedly reduce drag to
virtually zero. The materials are made to duplicate the skins of marine animals
Speedos latest such product, introduced in February, is the
LZR Racer, supposedly “the world’s fastest swimsuit.” And, in fact, swimmers
wearing the suits have broken 44 world records since its debut. Speedo claims
that its fabric is the lightest yet and that it actually repels water;
supposedly the shape of the suit actually presses muscles into a perfect
aerodynamic swimming form.
Michael Phelps models the LZR Racer
But while they’re less revealing than the classic Speedo,
these new body suits also have their gay and bisexual admirers.
Still, given the popularity of the Speedo in the rest of the
world, it’s not going anywhere soon. And Mark Tewksbury still wears one — not just in the pool, but also on the beach. “I grew up in them and
feel most comfortable,” he says. “I also like the tan lines they give.”
Next Page! David Beckham! And, yes, James Bond!
And regardless of the direction swimwear is going for many
competitive swimmers, divers and water polo players continue to wear the more
traditional Speedo in the Olympics and elsewhere, God love ‘em.
Bond’s Daniel Craig may have single-handedly finally made the
Speedo sexy for American women with his spectacular rise up out of the water in
tight, Speedo-like trunks in 2006’s Casino Royale. And David Beckham also continues to do
Daniel Craig (left) & David Beckham
What the future holds for the Speedo, no one knows. But it’s
a good bet that gay and bisexual men will be watching closely.