Bikini Girls Mosaic

Bikini Girls mosaic from Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily.

June is finally here, it is getting warmer and the summer is in sight. So is, unfortunately, the persistent question in the media: are you beach body ready? And this question seems to be targeted at younger audiences each year as Discovery Girls magazine encouraged young girls to think about their body shape when choosing a swim suit.

This beach body debate, however aggressive, always brings to my mind the famous Bikini Girls Mosaic from Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily. The mosaic decorates the floor of a small room at this huge 4thcentury AD Roman Villa. Although the Villa is full of impressive mosaics depicting hunting scenes, this room is by far the most popular with the tourists and it is not difficult to understand why.

Ten girls arranged in two tiers wear something that is very similar to the modern bikini sets. At the first glance they look like they are posing for a photo-shoot for a new Triumph catalogue. As with all kinds of arts, we need to look beyond the first impressions. First of all, there is no sea and therefore no beach to show off the toned body. Secondly, no one seems to be sunbathing – all the figures are in motion and they are far too white for the creatures that spend much time outdoors! What is happening then? To fully understand this scene, we need to look closely at the objects these ladies are holding. The first one on the left has two halters Рsmall weights that were used in the long jump to achieve a longer jump. The second girl holds a discus (similar to the one held by the famous discobolus sculptured by Myron). The next couple have no attributes but they are clearly racing. The two directly below them play some sort of ball game. The central one crowns herself whilst holding a palm – symbol of victory. The girl beside her is holding something that looks like a wheel on the stick – it is hard to tell what sport this might represent but this lady is undoubtedly a victor as she is crowned with the same insignia as her neighbour by the lady draped in the gold cloak.

Once we look closely at the mosaic and understand the attributes it becomes clear that we are not looking at a first version of the beachwear but a first version of sportswear (men competed naked – so no need for a tracksuit). Think more Jessica Ennis-Hill than Cindy Crawford, as the girls on this mosaic are not doing sports for leisure but clearly compete with each other for a prize. What they are doing and who they are is far more important in this context to how they are looking and what they are wearing. And this can be a good thing to have in mind when you are choosing your bikini for the summer!

-Michalina Szymanska
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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