Unmentionable Icons: Annette Kellerman

May 3, 2015

Summer is almost upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, and in Ontario people are taking the tarps off their swimming pools and getting ready to dive in to cool down. 

 

Summer is synonymous with swimming and swimwear - and for many of us some angst about being seen in skin tight spandex, possibly even longing for the years where women wore enormous wool swim dresses which exposed only the very minimum of skin. 

 

So if this sounds like you, then one of the people you have to thank for bringing us the modern bathing suit is a woman called Annette Kellerman.

 

Annette Kellerman was born in Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia, on 6 July 1886. She had problems with her legs as a child which meant that when she was only six years old she was forced to wear steel leg braces. Her parents, wanting to help her overcome this potential disability, enrolled her in swimming lessons. These paid off as, by the time she was 13 the issues with her legs were virtually resolved. By the time she was 15 she had won her first swimming race and was giving diving displays. 

 

On 24 August 1905, aged 19, Kellerman was the one of first women to attempt to swim the English Channel. After three unsuccessful swims she declared, "I had the endurance but not the brute strength." 

 

Annette was very serious about her swimming and it must have been in the early 1900's that she decided that the swimwear of the time was not very practical - pantaloons covered by a dress. She opted instead to wear a one piece swimming suit.

 

This caused quite the stir, so much so, that in 1907 Annette was arrested for indecency while on a beach in Massachusetts. Despite this, her one piece swimsuits were hugely popular and resulted in her launching her own line of women's swimwear.  These 'Annette Kellermans' were the the first modern swimsuits as we would recognise them.

 

Despite this line of swimwear, women were still restricted in what they could wear at many public beaches, this photo below shows police measuring the distance of the hemline to the knee of these bathing beauties in 1922. That's over 15 years after Annette's indecency charge. 

 

Despite the issues with her legs at a younger age, Annette seems to have been very body confident. The indecency charge didn't appear to concern her and in 1916 she decided to forgo her swimsuit altogether when she was the first major actress to appear nude in a film called Daughter of the Gods. 

 

This was only one of many films that Kellerman appeared in, the majority of which had an aquatic theme and in which she did all her own stunts - including diving into a pool of crocodiles!

 

But if swimming, diving, a line of swimwear and a career as a movie star wasn't enough, Annette also wrote a number of books and opened a health food store in California. Wow, what a woman and what a life! And although I don't always feel fabulous in my swimsuit, I must say that I am very glad that I don't have to wear pantaloons and a dress to the beach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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