The Fastskin Revolution: From Human Fish to Swimming Androids
Keywords:Bodysuits, swimming, technology, sportswear, consumer culture, spectacle, fashion
The story of fastskin swimsuits reflects some of the challenges facing the impact of technology in postmodern culture. Introduced in 1999 and ratified for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, fastskin swimsuits were touted as revolutionising competitive swimming. Ten years later, they were banned by the world’s swimming regulatory body FINA (the Fédération Internationale de Natation), with the ban taking effect from January 2010 (Shipley 2009). The reason was the controversy caused by the large number of world records that were broken by competitors wearing polyurethane swimsuits, the next generation of the original fast skin suits. These suits were deemed to be providing an artificial advantage by increasing buoyancy and reducing drag. This had been an issue ever since they were introduced, yet FINA had approved the suits and, thereby, unleashed an unstoppable technological revolution of the sport of competitive swimming. Underlying this was the issue about its implications of the transformation of a sport based on the movement of the human body through water without the aid of artificial devices or apparatus. This article argues that the advent of the fastskin has not only transformed the art of swimming but has created a new image of the swimmer as a virtual android rather than a human fish. In turn, the image of the sport of swimming has been re-mapped as a technical artefact and sci-fi spectacle based on a radically transformed concept of the swimming body as a material object that has implications for the ideal of the fashionable body.
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