First, let’s define our terms: though a “Speedo” is technically any swimsuit made by the Australian Speedo brand, colloquially, a “speedo” is a men’s aquatic brief. A Speedo is a swimming costume with a minimum of fabric baring a legal maximum of skin. As with its cotton underwear cousin—the much-maligned “tighty whitey”—the Speedo is often an object of ridicule, except perhaps when worn by an Olympic champion (Ryan Lochte is certainly mockable, but not for his suit), a child, or the French. As conceived of in contemporary American culture, the Speedo is unacceptable—too small, too tight, too European, and too gay.
But we reject such an assessment. In truth, the Speedo is a prideful, taut, and glorious garment. Here’s why.
Wearing a Speedo forces a clear-eyed reckoning with your body, whatever its shape. Baggy board shorts (in our eyes, a more legitimate object of ridicule) are clumsy and sartorially lazy, obscuring cellulite and uneven thigh hair. A Speedo, magnificently, allows the summer air to caress your weird, bulgier bits.
What a Speedo gifts its wearer—an honest bodily regard—is valuable not in that it serves as a precursor to a weight-loss regiment, but because wearing such a revealing suit is freeing: a Speedo lets it all hang out, and affirms whatever’s hanging. As testimony from toupee-wearing men or, recently, Caitlyn Jenner underscores, obfuscation of a part of oneself is a stressful, losing game. Embracing and baring those parts of ourselves that society deems unruly—be it a transgender identity or a lumpen butt—is an important step towards personal freedom. While the dream might be to flaunt rippling abs in a Speedo, the achievable reality—and more accessible pleasure—is flaunting whatever-shaped self you have. The presentation, not the body, brings the joy.
Plus, a Speedo demands at least a modicum of bravado. In long, bedraggled trunks, you can shuffle down the beach—in a Speedo, you’ve got to proudly present your wares. It’s good for the posture.
As generations of flustered American tourists have discovered, most municipal French pools do not allow swim trunks in the water. Luxuriant, Bermuda-style shorts collect dirt and debris, and make for a dirtier swimming environment. In addition, the French rightly assume that men wear trunks as street-wear, which brings in further detritus. (Anyone who has seen a forlorn, chlorine-soaked pack of Trident a the bottom of the deep end will understand.) The French law was legislated in 1903 and is going nowhere fast, but fortunately for tourists who arrive unprepared, most French pools feature Speedo vending machines.
Plus, the tight hold of a speedo takes much of the flop and slop out of walking—a visual clean-up any pool or beach-goer can appreciate.
You will never see a professional swimmer in a trunk. Long shorts are, literally, hydrodynamically, a drag. After the 1956 Olympics, in which the Speedo-sponsored, Speedo-wearing Australian team won 8 gold medals, the Speedo became standard-issue for serious sporting events. At the 1968 Olympics, 27 of the 29 gold medalists wore Speedos, as did 22 of the 23 swimmers who set world records. Similar statistics held true at the Munich Olympics of 1972 (21 of 22 records set in Speedos) and have at every proceeding Games. While the company has recently released more comprehensive suits, like its Fastskin and LZR racer series, the message is clear for more amateur, but competent, swimmers: if you want to swim quickly and unencumbered, wear a Speedo.
Go forth, men, and allow yourselves to be held tightly in the comfortable nylon grip of a flashy aquatic brief! Life is too short to wear long.
Photos by Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images