From a Playful Test to a Forgotten Pioneer: Annette Kellerman, Queen of the Sea

I was fooling around the house, one day, taking random pictures to test the lighting at different hours. I was not going to ever release this somewhat funny image of me, but for whatever reason, I kept it. Yesterday I saw the short video linked below and I was surprised by a certain image which, in a strange way, kind of resembled that outfit. I did some online research and discovered more about Annette Kellerman, the swimwear trendsetter Elle magazine was talking about, an Australian professional swimmer who got arrested in 1907 for wearing a sleeveless one-piece bathing suit. She was a powerful and interesting female figure, who educated women about the benefits of swimming as an ideal form of exercise while keeping their attire feminine, at the same time. In 1919 she published a manual named “How to swim”, where she included details of dressing for swimming. At that time, women were expected to wear dress and pantaloons when swimming, which made everything heavy, even dangerous. Her daring and justified approach was controversial, but it started a new era in regards of a healthy attitude towards women’s exercise manner. She wrote: ‘Not only in matters of swimming but in all forms of activity woman’s natural development is seriously restricted and impaired by customs and costumes and all sorts of prudish and Puritanical ideas. The girl child long before she is conscious of her sex, is continually reminded that she is a girl and therefore must forego many childhood activities. As womanhood approaches these restrictions become even more severe and the young woman is corseted and gowned and thoroughly imbued with the idea that it is most unlady-like to be possessed of legs or know how to use them.’  (http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2016/06/21/annette-kellerman-on-how-to-swim/)

This woman was amazing: she became a champion swimmer and diver after a childhood of wearing steel braces to strengthen her legs. Later on, she started acting and became the first major actress to do a nude scene, in the movie „A Daughter of the Gods”. Her films had themes of aquatic adventure where she performed her own stunts including diving from ninety two feet into the sea and sixty feet into a pot of crocodiles. She played mermaids a lot. She published more books and booklets on health, beauty and fitness. She was a lifelong vegetarian and owned a health food store in California, later in life. She remained active and kept swimming and exercising until shortly before her death, at 89 years old. What an extraordinary lady! I am so glad I joked around with that scarf! If I hadn’t, I would have just seen the Elle magazine video, had some giggles, shared the link, but never looked deeper. And so now I learned and happily share with you the story of Annette Kellerman, Queen of the Sea.

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