Thursday, August 28, 2014

50 years ago: Canadian religious leaders weigh in on topless bathing suits

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; I Timothy 2:9

Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
I Peter 3:3-4

The topless bathing suit was a fashion fad in 1964. I don't think it ever caught on in Canada (I'm too young to remember), but several clergymen from the Toronto area were asked their opinions of the matter. It comes as no surprise to this blogger that the stupidest comments are from the Unitarian-Universalist. As reported by Allen Spraggett in the Toronto Daily Star, July 4, 1964, p. 50 (bold and capitals in original):

'Symbol of Decay?'

Debate morals of topless fad

S THE topless bathing suit a moral issue?

Some Russian newspapers have called it a symbol of Western moral decay--is it?

Is a woman who wears a topless bathing suit or evening dress showing moral laxity?

Or, is this ultimate in plunging necklines merely a fashion fad of no greater significance than any other?

Metro clergymen commented.

Dr. W.G. Berry, St. Paul's-Avenue Road United Church:

"I think this new style sells sex. In our society sex has become the easiest way of selling any commodity on the market, the best gimmick for promoting anything.

"Women who go for this new trend are just being taken for a ride. For the fashion designers, morality is not an issue. They are interested only in making money. Business is business.

"I think this new style is being foisted on the public by publicity. It's an example of what I call superimposition--a style or fad is superimposed on people and they feel they've got to accept it.

"The real moral issue here involves the ethics of commercialism, of businessmen who will do anything for a buck.

"My own feeling is that women will not adopt this new style, with the exception of foolish people or sensation seekers. A woman who would wear a topless bathing suit is probably sexually immature rather than morally lax.

Rev. J. Harry Faught, chairman pro tem, Canadian Evangelical Fellowship:

"The topless bathing suit is symptomatic of a general lowering of what is morally acceptable in our society. If the style were widely adopted it would lower the moral tone of society.

"However, I feel certain that this kind of familiarity, this kind of blatant vulgarity, would become contemptible in the eyes of the majority. People's innate moral principles would rebel against it.

"At the present time, I would say that a woman who wore this new style would be showing more a desire to appear way off-centre, avant-garde, than any moral looseness. But the appearance of such a style definitely would be a change for the moral worse."

Rev. Alfred Fowlie, Willowdale Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship:

"I think the new topless style has a lot to do with the idea of equality of women with men. They feel that their bodies are their bodies--not public property--and they can do with them as they please. What is beautiful about their bodies should be exposed.

"If a beautiful young girl wants to expose her breasts, or if she feels more comfortable in a topless bathing suit, let her do as she pleases, and then let society decide whether it likes it or not.

"This kind of morality is very relative. In some Asiatic countries the custom is for women to be bare-breasted. In the high culture of ancient Crete the women were bare-breasted. And, of course, in primitive societies this is the style. Perhaps this new look is a return to a primitive but honest morality. Personally, I certainly would not regard a woman's wearing a topless bathing suit as a sign of any kind of moral laxity.

"Most Unitarians agree that the real moral issues do not concern modes of dress or customs of sex but poverty, war, racial discrimination and other social evils which cause the misery of millions.

Rev. Pius J. Riffel, SJ, instructor in pastoral psychology, Regis College, Willowdale:

"This new style reflects changing cultural patterns in our society. We are experiencing many changes in customs and attitudes--some good, some bad. This topless bathing suit is one of the bad.

"There is a close relationship between a healthy, normal sense of modesty and morality. A sense of appropriateness in dress is good psychology and good morality. Immodesty is therefore bad psychologically and morally.

"I can't believe that many women would wear this new style. To do so could be a sign of neurotic exhibitionism, a psychological instability.

"Frankly, I am not unduly exercised about this matter at the moment. I do not see society crumbling because of it or anything ominous like that. However, this new fad doubtless is another sign of the general loosening of morals which has been going on for some time."
With the way the fashions of the world have influenced Christianity in the last 50 years, if the topless bathing suit were to make a comeback, it would be only a matter of time until "Christian" topless bathing suits were marketed.

Those astute American cultural observers Jan & Dean offered perhaps the best secular commentary on the phenomenon of the topless bathing suit (Bruce and Terry's version was released as a single, but is no longer available on YouTube, as of the date of this post):

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