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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJanuary 20, 2024

Why is every bikini bottom a thong now?

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

For a couple of summers I have resisted baring my cheeks, writes Gabi Lardies – but now it seems my options are running out.

It wasn’t that long ago that seeing a thong on the beach signalled the wearer was certainly not from New Zealand. They’d be speaking in Latin cadences and blissfully unaware of this little country’s modesty around bottoms. Lately, though, smaller and smaller bikini bottoms have been creeping their way onto local bums and beaches.

Bums are joyous and happy things – they’re bouncy, soft and round, all the things we like about baby cheeks but bigger. I think they are cute to see on the beach, but I’m not sure baring my own would bring me such joy. 

So far, I’ve resisted, surviving off op-shop finds and whatever old lycra thing I can still squeeze into from previous summers. But now elastics have perished, sagging crotches have been collecting water, and waves have found it increasingly easy to pull bottoms down. There’s also the inescapable fact that in your 30s you start growing again so bits come out which shouldn’t and it is very annoying to always be on nipple patrol when it’s actually office shutdown and you’re meant to be doing laugh, live, love or eat, pray, love.

Cheeky bikini bottoms – more fabric, but not more coverage.

A search for a new bikini at the mall, however, didn’t return any non-thong options. Sure, there are some that don’t look like thongs on the hangers – they’re labelled “cheeky”, “French” or “Brazilian” and are perhaps the width of a hand at the back. The problem is that in practice, aka on a body, they ride up into your crack, creating a permanent wedgie and revealing just as much as a thong, possibly with less comfort. I tried on the ones with tie-up sides, the ones with bra-strap-like sides, the thick sides, and the high sides all with the same result – the cheeks were out. Choice was an illusion. 

Bikini tops, on the other hand, seem to have stayed relatively unchanged. The classic triangles on string still prevail, and it’s easy enough to adjust the coverage to taste by sizing up or down. Then there are other options, like bandeau, boob tubes, balconettes, underwired contraptions, and scooped kinda sporty tops to suit different shapes and sizes and styles. These little garments are real options, which actually fit boobs in different ways, rather than having the singular aim of making their way into a dark crevasse. 

Back in the bottoms department, boyleg bottoms and boardshorts have been lost to the mists of time, like mp3 players. Even one pieces, traditionally the safely modest option of swimwear, are mostly “cheeky” now.

In 2002, Blue Crush proved boardshorts are an excellent bottoms choice, but good luck finding any in the women’s department.

The newfound popularity of the bikini bottom thong comes on the back of a greater movement of butt appreciation/sexualisation, where the behind has entered the room of things to pay attention to. Like any hot item of clothing, it comes within a can of worms – is wearing butt floss to the beach empowering or self-objectifying? Will wearing it lead me to feel good about my body or disparage it? And, will people stare, make comments and make me feel gross? 

Worms and all, the mall reckons I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t want to bare my bum, and I’m worried it’s a sign of ageing, being a prude and serious uncoolness. Do I need to embrace this new way of living, sun’s out, buns out, which truthfully is going to mean I have to do a whole lot more personal grooming? Annoying.

When I get home from the mall, my flatmate invites me to look through her bag of clothes destined for the op shop. In there is a tankini, with perfectly classic bottoms, in bright blue, which is a perfectly acceptable colour. I am saved.

A few days later she posts a photo of herself at the beach. She must have had assistance because it’s from behind. The sun is shining on her hair and down her back, all the way down to two revealed cheeks. It’s like a vision from heaven – of beauty and freedom. Perhaps it’s good to leave butt coverage in the past, like thinking SPF15 was all good. I go back to the mall. On the rack of bikini bottoms there’s pink, green, floral (vomit) and chequered (fine but kinda twee) thongs. The black ones with the white trim I liked have sold out.

Keep going!