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Before the Bikini: Vintage Bathing Suits

new_PLH8951I’ve been missing the beach this summer. I’m aware that there are beaches for me to explore here in the city of Toronto — Hanlan’s point, the clothing optional beach on Toronto Island, has been on my radar, and there is an entire neighborhood on Queen East designated as “The Beaches.” And yet, my existence in Toronto continues to feel land-locked and productivity-focused. I had heard this about Toronto before I moved here: that Torontonians are work-oriented, focused on their (at best creative) output. I am beginning to understand this on a visceral level. I find myself spending the majority of my time indoors, in mine and my partner’s gorgeous studio apartment — a space that is ultimately a temporary refuge, as the waves of gentrification come up against Yonge Street and threaten what is currently our livable and affordable existence. I have had an immensely productive two years, as I witness the invigorating elation that you can experience once you overcome the fear of showing your artwork to other people. Artistically and academically, I have been attaining many of my goals — a matter which I, as a Type A who has long tried to deny or dilute my Type A-ness, is thrilling. But a key element remains, holding me back from being able to say that I like living in Toronto, or that I could see myself living here for years to come. Being able to take a long walk outside and breathe in fresh air is something I might have taken for granted, growing up in the prairies. The  wide open sky of Saskatchewan in all its eerie transparency (insert SK cliches here: “You can see your dog running for miles”) and the thoroughly sublime air of a west coast old-growth rainforest — these are what ultimately nourish me. As my psychotherapist has prompted me to think about, after I’ve undergone various upheavals in my young adulthood, “What nourishes you now?”

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_PLH8955 new_PLH8957 copyThese photographs of me in my vintage bathing suits were taken on the shared rooftop patio of our apartment in downtown Toronto. Although the air in our neighborhood is unpleasant — the smell of garbage and piss is a fairly dependable consistent — I feel very lucky to be able to live in such a wonderful space with some solid neighbors. Our upstairs neighbors are actors from Calgary, and me and my partner are both artists from Regina: together we form a little prairie diaspora in Toronto, a city that on the one hand we like for what it encourages in our respective practices and creative output, and on the other hand resent for its air quality. Prairie kids in the big city. What are they to do? One idea is to cultivate spaces within which micro-communities can come together.  I think of queer place-making practices, for example, and the work of my friend Anthea Black, a Toronto-based artist whose work features in a queer feminist zine I have curated entitled SELF CARE FOR SKEPTICS. Feel free to check out the zine here (http://laurenfournier.net/Self-Care-for-Skeptics-Zine). Of course, the case of queer place-making practices is much more serious than my desire for fresh air — queer place-making emerges from the fact that patriarchal and heteronormative societies continue to pose very real threats for those who do not fit into what are their perceived gender roles or identifications: for example, those who identify as transgendered or genderqueer. I wonder how much my longing for good air quality and beautiful green spaces (and safe space) comes from a sense of privilege and entitlement, and how much is valid. And then I realize that the question of privilege in relation to this question of air quality and natural environments is quite complicated. My body longs for the west coast air, and yet I (along with countless others) do not know if I will ever be able to afford to live there long-term.

_PLH8943 For now, I put on my beloved vintage bathing suits and recline on our rooftop patio, a glass of campari soda in hand, ample SPF covering my skin. As I recline I imagine what it would have been like to live in the 1960s, the era from which these bathing suits hail. So much of my reading this year has been focused on the massive social and political upheavals that came with the 1960s. As a woman, I am grateful to now have the capacity to somewhat freely create artwork — often work that uses my own body as its medium — and to write posts like these on the internet. While there is still much work to be done, and while I continue to be aware of the stakes of identifying as a feminist on the internet, I resist naive nostalgia, for I am aware of the stakes of doing so. While I much prefer the cuts of vintage bathing suits, I do not prefer retro ideologies. We must move toward inclusivity, toward making the lives of more and more people livable. As the brilliant and irreverent Hennessy Youngman says, in his parodic lecture on Post-Structuralism, “You be like: ‘I wish we could go back to the good ol’ days.’ And post-structuralism be like, ‘Um which good old days do you mean? Umm, the good old days where people owned slaves?’… You really need to know what good old days you are talking about” (https://vimeo.com/17431354)

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I found this paisley one piece bathing suit at Mintage on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. While the original tags are missing, I believe this bathing suit is made of a rather thick combination of spandex and cotton. It feels like a piece of wearable sculpture: an entirely different texture and weight than contemporary bathing suits. I particularly like the way it dips down low in the back, as well as the small skirt-like adornment. I loved wearing this bathing suit when I had a violet-grey pixie cut in Vancouver, but I also think it looks great with my blonde bob. I found these sunglasses at a flea market in Prague last summer: I paid less than 10 Euro for them, and they have lasted me for two summers now. I tend toward purchasing cheaper sunglasses, as I get nervous about the prospect of losing or sitting on an expensive pair. Pictured at the top of this article, the 1970s floral one piece, complete with the pronounced cups, is from Community Thrift + Vintage in Vancouver’s gastown. I fell in love with this pattern when I saw it, and was happy to see that the suit fit my body. The fabric is thinner than the brown paisley suit, and more closely resembles how contemporary bathing suits feel. That being said, the fabric feels more durable: I am impressed at how generously it moves to fit my body, and how well-maintained the coloring and pattern is after over four decades.

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Thanks for tuning in!  Until next time — Lauren ☾

Lauren Fournier is an artist and writer currently based in Toronto.
She is working on her PhD in feminist theory and performance art at York University.
http://www.laurenfournier.net

Photography credits: Lee Henderson (www.noattainment.com)