2. Breasts, (Un)Dress, and Modernist Desires in the Balinese-Tourist Encounter
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61 two Breasts, (Un)Dress, and Modernist Desires in the Balinese-Tourist Encounter Margaret Wiener In 1933, a travel book offered the following alluring description of the island of Bali: ‘‘A modest woman has nothing to hide,’’ is the theory of Bali. The first days you are on the island, your eyes nearly pop out at the sight of so many ‘‘Eves,’’—but after a few days of seeing these bronzed natives, busy about their living, entirely unconscious of their bared beautiful breasts, you no longer notice them. Their dark skin seems like a garment. (Yates 1933: 76–77) Fast forward to 2002, when a tourist planning a trip to Bali could find the following on the World Wide Web: The Balinese remain conservative and traditional. . . . When not on the beach or at the pool, please wear shorts or a swimsuit cover-up. Swimsuits, a swimtop and sarong, etc., are not acceptable attire on any street. . . . Nude bathing is illegal and impolite. (Island Dreams Tours 2001) Reading these two descriptions, one can only marvel that they purport to describe the same place. Strikingly, both texts were written for the same pur- Dirt, Undress, and Difference 62 pose: to stimulate tourism to the island of Bali, the most internationally famous province in the Republic of Indonesia. These two quotations raise a host of analytical issues. Clearly, Balinese styles of dress have undergone a dramatic change. What happened between 1933 and 2002 and what role did tourism itself play in changing Balinese practices and values? Moreover, precisely who counts as undressed or potentially improperly dressed also has changed: the appealing sight of bared Balinese breasts has given way to the appalling prospect of nude tourist sunbathers. Two distinct, yet ultimately connected, modernist desires appear here at odds with one another: if the 1930s offered the promise of paradisiacal primitivism (from the tourist’s point of view), the allure of a paradisiacal modernity played a prime role in the making of contemporary Indonesians. To what extent did such fantasies mutually influence one another?1 Changes in dress and in the meaning of a bare upper body, from the 1920s to the present, raise questions about the different ways that style can signify socially. As a means of asserting identity and enacting subjectivity, dress articulates one juncture of historically produced social constraints, cultural meanings , and individual desires (see Schulte Nordholt 1997). Dress is both a form of self-expression and a statement to others, a complicated message within what are increasingly, in the globalized twenty-first century, layered cultural codes. Dress creates identities in part by asserting affiliations and in part by producing differences of the most material kind. What is dress to some people is, however, undress to others. All societies recognize states of undress as potentially significant. Moreover, what counts as being undressed depends more on context—on who, where, when, and what— than on absolute measures. People may be judged undressed not only when naked, but for exposing certain body parts, for leaving the body undecorated, or even for wearing clothing ‘‘inappropriate’’ to a particular situation. Undress is also a relative concept, socially produced and, like all social significations, a product of contests for power among various groups. For Euro-Americans in different time periods and in different social positions, for instance, undress has variously, and sometimes simultaneously, signaled sexuality, poverty, vulnerability , aggression, immorality, innocence, health, and leisure. Since the 1920s undress has figured in Bali’s construction as a tourist paradise. Exposed body parts—especially bared breasts—crafted key desires informing and produced by tourism in Bali. Two discourses of culture meet in the chatter around undress: the anthropological culture of everyday practice, and the self-conscious and explicit culture that forms an object of discussion by Balinese intellectuals, Indonesian officials, and promoters of tourism. Following the publication of a volume containing numerous photographs of Balinese women with bare upper torsos as well as photographs of women bathing, the bare-breasted Balinese woman quickly became a staple of Western images of Bali. It served, among other things, as a marketing device for an American lingerie company through the 1940s. By the time developers tar- Breasts, (Un)Dress, and Modernist Desires in the Balinese-Tourist Encounter 63 geted tourism as a major source of foreign exchange in the 1970s and 1980s, however, Balinese dress codes had altered. Balinese women no longer exposed their breasts. Now it was Europeans, Americans, and Australians romping nude on Balinese beaches...


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