In praise (or not) of the Speedo

H/t to Terrance at his Republic for this article.

Who would’ve thought that a tiny contraption that fits snugly around a man’s jewels could become the subject of such intense debate? I receive e-mail on a virtual daily basis regarding how cool or appalling people think Speedos are. So which side of the Speedo spectrum is the majority on?

From what I can gather, swimming briefs are quite appealing across Europe, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), you’d be hard-pressed to find any man in North America donning a pair of them. Nope, it’s baggy swimming trunks for the good old red, white and blue.

The speedo has an honorable history – first offered back in the day as a practical racing suit for competitive swimmers. Over time, the basic suit hasn’t changed much. It comes in two basic forms – the brief and the more modest square cut. (Which to me, looks like the style of suits a lot of men wore back in the 40s and 50s). The Speedo fits snugly, reduces drag, allows for freer movement when swimming and doesn’t get in the way of turns and your stroke. As a practical bit of exercise wear, it’s a good thing.

If I’m heading for a lazy evening of sitting in the hot tub, I wear the usual baggy trunks. If I’m heading to swim laps, it’s the speedo for me. Almost any serious swimmer gets himself a speedo. Back in the day, a friend of mine on swimteam called our speedos “barbed wire swimsuits” – they held in the property without obstructing the view.

Of course, as a very fit college student, I didn’t think twice about donning a speedo. As I near 40, I find myself much more equivocal about the experience. Suffice to say, lap swimming in the usual man’s swim suit is no fun. But, the transition from locker room to water is consistently awkward.

Back to Ask Men:

One American woman said, “Just like it’s usually the wrong women who don thong bikinis — you know, those cellulite-drenched, no-butt, old women — it’s usually the fat, hairy, old guy who struts his stuff down the beach in a Speedo that looks like an elastic band in contrast to his size.”

I’ll cut some slack for any of guy who is actually doing fitness swimming – grab your speedo no questions asked.

On the other hand, as the writer at Ask Men wisely observes, European culture is far less hung up on the human body than is North American culture. We Americans get much more hung up than do our European cousins.

I believe the American discomfort with the body is less about the actual display of other people’s bodies than the American tendency to see our own bodies as flawed, bad, unattractive and in need of hiding. I see it in myself and hear it in other people’s discussion of such things: we’re a little jealous of the people who just aren’t hung up on their bodies (namely, who aren’t telling themselves how hideous their bodies are). I think Americans in general are very likely to feel alienated from our physical selves; that alienation from self makes us act different concerning our bodies. We’re more likely to feel that we should be ashamed of our physical selves, to feel we should cover up and be embarrassed if we’re too fat or too hairy or too old or too saggy.

At the same time, I know that as I near 40, I really shouldn’t dress the same way I did when I was 20. That’s not a bad thing. But . . . that doesn’t mean that when swimming laps I am going to wear board shorts. For lap swimming, you don’t have to wear a speedo but I it does make it easier. As far as the beach goes, I think we’re going to have a serious debate

ps – FWIW, if you’re out of shape, not wearing a speedo doesn’t hide that. Men’s swimwear doesn’t cover the top half of your body and most men carry their extra weight on their torsos. So, I wonder if perhaps the objection to the speedo on the old guy is about the way in which the speedo does not disguise, shield, or hide a man’s sex organs, and our societal discomfort with the sexuality and older people. We don’t like to think that the elderly are sexual beings – in some sense we prefer to think that when you retire, you die from the waist down.

  1. #1 by Jenni on July 28, 2008 - 9:58 am

    My opinion, for what it’s worth: as a heterosexual woman in her late 30s, all men look better in swim trunks – regardless of physical condition. I am aware that for competition or speed, the speedo type is best.

    I also have always preferred men is boxer shorts to “tighty-whitey” or speedo type underwear. Now days there’s a short-brief combo that looks pretty sexy. I don’t know why, but I find (at least on men I’m attracted to) boxers to be very sexy.

    I’m not sure what younger women like these days, but in the 80s and 90s, I can tell you that women in their teens through 30s preferred boxers and swim trunks on men to the tighter counterparts, so I may just be a product of my times.

    I remember an incident with Harrison Ford on one of the late night talk shows in the late 80s, and the question of “boxers or briefs” was asked. There was loud disappointment from the women in the audience when the answer wasn’t boxers.

    You wrote : “the way in which the speedo does not disguise, shield, or hide a man’s sex organs” — this may be why we prefer the boxer type undies and swim wear. Don’t know for sure. I don’t have an aversion to the look of a male’s genitalia, but I do find other parts of a guy (chest, for example)sexier . . .

  2. #2 by Glenden Brown on July 28, 2008 - 10:49 am

    Hey Jenni! I appreciate your perspective. I think a lot of women agree with you.

    Funny thing, of course, is that speeod and the other swimwear makers now make tight fitting suits that are somewhat larger than the traditional speedo but that still manage to not hide, disguise or shield the property (they call it the jammer, there’s also the cool new body suits). Despite covering more territory, they manage to be equally revealing. I don’t know how they manage that.

  3. #3 by jdberger on July 30, 2008 - 1:28 am

    Wearing a speedo on a beach if you’re going to do any kind of surfing is a BAD idea.

    The board short allows sand to drain out the legs. A speedo retains that sand…giving the appearance of a “load”.

    An interesting facet of board shorts for swimming is the increased drag. It’ll give you a little better workout.

  4. #4 by Glenden Brown on July 30, 2008 - 7:58 am

    JD – I have never been surfing so I did not know about board shorts and sand but it makes sense. However when swimming laps the problem isn’t just the drag it’s the fact that board shorts impede your movement while swimming. During a flip turn in board shorts or regular swimming trunks the suit gets in the way of movement.

  5. #5 by krp on September 8, 2008 - 9:34 am

    As a heterosexual male I prefer wearing “speedo” swimming suits over trunks for the following reasons:
    1. I stay warmer with speedos because they dry faster/do not carry as much water when getting in and out of the water. (I have low body fat.)
    2. Speedos do not chafe my upper inner thigh like trunks.
    3. Speedos do not drag air and water like trunks.

    I believe Speedos should not be viewed just by their “sexual appeal” but also practicality. How practical are swim trunks on women? What is the “aversion” to the male body when women see them and say “ewee” or “gross” when most women’s swim suits are worn right next to their genitalia and nipples — many times I can see the outline of labia and/or nipples!

  6. #6 by Who is watching the watchers on September 8, 2008 - 9:48 am

    “many times I can see the outline of labia and/or nipples”!

    Questions anyone? Anyone troubled?

  7. #7 by La Suat on January 15, 2012 - 9:03 pm

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