Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I’m not sure now where this piece got published. It may have been the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the one referred to in the second paragraph as “this paper.” But this is actually a translation and an updating of something I originally wrote in Filipino for my column, “Kung sa Bagay,” in the short-lived newspaper Pinoy Times, published by Inquirer founder Eggie Apostol. That particular column item was entitled “Bikini para sa Totoong Pinay,” and it came out in the Pinoy Times issue of May 1, 2000.

Bikini, Philippine Style

IT’S SUMMERTIME, and the living isn’t exactly easy, which is why a lot of us are fleeing from the enervating heat—and cooling off in the hot springs of Pansol or on the hot sands of countless beach resorts.

The hot news for the season relayed a little while back by the lifestyle section of this paper came to me as a bit of a shock. The hottest-selling item at department stores right now, according to the report, is the bikini.

Yup, the bikini, the swimwear made out of two bits of cloth and named, according to my usually unreliable sources, after an island that got split into two islets by an atomic-bomb test.

When I read that item, I realized that I belong to the tribe described in the song “Ang Boyfriend Kong Baduy” as in na in, pero out pa rin. In fact, I may be out na out altogether, because I can’t recall being in waters that the buyers of the bestselling bikini swim in.

I’m curious to find out if it’s Filipinas who are buying these bikinis. And of course I’d like to know on what beach or in what swimming pool in which part of this archipelago they’re wearing the bikinis they’re buying.

You’ll probably say: Boracay. That doesn’t count. As far as I know, Boracay has succeeded where the Abu Sayyaf has failed. It has seceded from the Philippines. It is now an independent republic ruled by backpackers from Europe, it has decreed that there shall be only one official season (endless summer), and its chief source of income, the business that fuels its economy, is bikini competitions.

Not counting Boracay—and of course not counting the beerhouses with names derived from the criminal underworld (Kakosa, Bartolina, Iwahig, for instance), and not counting that Piel Morena movie that got an X rating a couple of times because the heroine’s bosom kept overflowing from the itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie bikinis she was made to wear—I can’t think of any place where the swimsuit of choice is the bestselling item at department stores.

I realize that the reason for this could be that I don’t get to join the in crowd at the in resorts. I’ve never been to Boracay, for one thing. I’ve never seen genuine Pinays in genuine bikinis on a genuine beach.

The Social Weather Stations hasn’t made a survey of the phenomenon, but I’m willing to bet that genuine Pinays, or at the very least the vast majority of Philippine womanhood, still belong to the mahinhin variety. They haven’t lost most of the old-fashioned modesty they’re supposed to have inherited from Maria Clara, that friar’s daughter who became a nun and then committed suicide because she couldn’t buy a bikini in the nunnery.

I say this, and I hope modern-day feminists won’t crucify me for saying this, because the swimsuit that I see the vast majority of Pinays wearing on the beaches I’ve been to is a two-piece outfit of a different sort—namely, T-shirt and walking shorts.

In reality, this is really a three-piece, because usually there’s a one-piece Olympic-style bathing suit underneath the T-shirt and walking shorts.

When I first made this observation in another publication, a friend informed me via email that the shirt-and-shorts combination is not uniquely Filipina, because you can find it in New York stores, where it’s called a tankini. Judging from its name, however, the tankini may still not be acceptable to the modern Maria Clara. Its upper half is probably a tank top, which bears as much resemblance to a T-shirt as a micromini does to a malong.

I wish to put it on record that I have absolutely no objection to bikinis. I like leafing through the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated as much as any red-blooded male animal. When I speak of T-shirts and walking shorts as the Philippine-style bikini, I am simply describing current reality, not endorsing it.

But that being the current reality, I think something has to be done about it. The usual T-shirt-and-shorts combination I’ve seen is a catch-as-catch-can affair, with no flair or imagination or sense of style whatsoever.

If I were a Filipino fashion designer, I wouldn’t go aping Western inventions like the bikini. Instead, I would venture into new territory, designing tasteful color-coordinated combinations of T-shirts and walking shorts for the Maria Clara of the new millennium. I’m sure such a swimwear line is going to be an even bigger bestseller than the bikini.

Bench for Her can take it from here. I shall not demand royalties for my brilliant new concept.


Giselle said...

sir, does subic count? :)

Ka Pete said...


Hindi ko yata ma-gets ang tanong mo. Trulili. Ibig bang sabihin natin ay maraming nagsusuot ng totoong bikini sa Subic? Pakiisplika naman.

Ka Pete