What Does A Bikini Say About The Woman Who Wears It?

Here’s the most ridiculous thing I know about the bikini: A 1949 article in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reportedly likened the skimpy two-piece swimsuit to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And yet, 67 years later, Hollywood has yet to make a movie about four women in bikinis who are members of a horse gang. Major missed opportunity.

Of course, the bikini itself has been a consistent presence on the big screen, often serving as a way to telegraph a character's identity. Why tell an audience that Martha isn't well-versed in Renaissance hermeticism when we can just show them she isn’t by putting her in a hot-pink G-string? (That's Hollywood's thinking, btw.) With that in mind, I’ve gone through some of the most iconic bikinis in film and drawn some rather far-fetched conclusions about what those itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny little bathing suits tell us about the characters wearing them.

For the record, this is not a comprehensive list, nor is it a definitive ranking of the best bikini moments in movies, or an analysis of beachwear trends throughout history. The suits are in chronological order, and I’ve given each look a made-up name.

No bikinis were harmed in the making of this list.

Warning: Spoilers ahead, but the most recent movie included is from 2014, so you’re probably fine.

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Photo: Atlantis Films/Pictorial Parade/Getty Images.
Brigitte Bardot, The Girl in the Bikini (1952; shown in the U.S. in 1958)
Bikini Style: Kind of Just Like a Bra and Panties?
What It Means: Have you ever been to a party that wasn’t supposed to be a pool party, but you got there and the house had a pool in the backyard? After a couple drinks, people started swimming with just their underwear on, because who cares if we all don’t have real bathing suits — how fun are we? And you were too embarrassed to go in, because your bra didn’t match your underwear and you actually wore your period panties that day since you didn’t have time to do laundry and weren’t anticipating having to undress?

Well, Bardot’s character, Manina, is basically the girl who wore matching underthings to the party. My imagined premise has nothing to do with the plot of the film, in which Manina (Brigitte Bardot), a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, is romanced by a college student searching for treasure nearby. But the pool party scenario is a good way of explaining to you that she’s that girl — a fact you can glean just by looking at her bikini, which looks a hell of a lot like an undies set purchased at a nice department store. (Side note: If you start to feel incredibly annoyed by this faux portrayal of feminine perfection, take solace in knowing that The New York Times really didn’t care for this film very much.)

Pictured: Brigitte Bardot in The Girl in the Bikini
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Photo: Everett Collection.
Ursula Andress, Dr. No (1962)
Bikini Style: Professional Shell Saleswoman
What It Means: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) is a local shell-diver in Jamaica. She’s also the first-ever Bond girl. What do you get when you combine those two things? A sexy, all-white bikini that’s also incredibly practical: You can store a knife on the side.

On one hand, the bikini did good; Andress later said her iconic swimwear scene is what made her a successful actress, giving her “the freedom to take my pick of future roles and to become financially independent.” But in terms of Honey Ryder, the bikini is really just there for Bond (Sean Connery) to comment on. “Honey...she clung to me like a wet bathing suit, but business as usual came first,” he quips. And while her character is self-sufficient at the start, making her own money selling shells and claiming to be able to defend herself, she’s inevitably captured by the villainous Dr. No, making her sound kind of naive for believing she could be so independent in the first place. Bond saves her, and they bump uglies in their getaway boat.

Pictured: Ursula Andress in Dr. No
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Photo: NBC/Getty Images.
Anette Funicello, Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Bikini Style: Teenage Dream
What It Means: Before Grease, there was a very different musical about teenagers. And it has a mermaid in it! And skydiving! And people who pretend to skydive when they are not, in fact, skydiving! The bikinis in this film are more prop than purpose. They signify, to me, that carefree attitude you have in high school when you think you are immortal and your friendships will never change. Fun!

Pictured: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Beach Blanket Bingo
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Photo: Everett Collection.
Raquel Welch, One Million Years, B.C. (1966)
Bikini Style: Literally Animal Skin Wrapped Around Your Lady Parts
What It Means: Let me ask you a question. If you were part of a tribe of really rad Fisherwomen of the Shell, would you leave that tribe to be with some jerk named Tumak of the Rock People? Of course not, because every woman’s life dream is to eventually retire among a community of other cool women, and own a collection of interesting, low-maintenance pets.

Alas, Loana the Fair One (Raquel Welch), a Fisherwoman of the Shell, meets Tumak (John Richardson) and leaves her lady tribe to follow him. A boy! And nothing good comes of it. She gets scooped up by a pterodactyl — an event that probably wouldn’t have happened if she had stuck with her girlfriends. And she even has to fight Tumak’s former lover Nupondi the Wild One over him. (The virgin/whore complex runs rampant in this film.) Animal-skin bikini equals barbarism. And barbarism is abandoning the Shell women.

Pictured: Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.
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Photo: United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images.
Jill St. John, Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Bikini Style: Perfect for Chilly Beach Days With a Touch of Home Decor
What It Means: Bond girl Tiffany Case is a diamond smuggler. But when she’s not hawking jewels, one of her favorite activities is dressing in sexy clothes for James Bond (Sean Connery). At one point in the film, Bond even comments on how much he likes her next-to-nothing outfits. And what does she say? “I don’t dress for the hired help.” Well.

That’s why her bikini is interesting. First, it’s perfect for days when it’s kind of cold at the beach. Second, it’s all about duality. It’s sensual, but also serves Tiffany in a practical sense. It’s representative of Case's lover-and-thief combo. But then there’s that silly tie around the middle of her waist. It looks like that thing you use to tie back a curtain, except dangling on her torso, it appears to serve no purpose at all. Kind of like that moment in the film when she has to shoot a gun in response to enemy fire and hasn’t a clue how a firearm works. What kind of diamond smuggler can’t shoot a gun? What kind of bikini has one of those tassel things down the center?

Pictured: Jill St. John in Diamonds Are Forever
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Photo: Photofest.
Gloria Hendry, Live and Let Die (1973)
Bikini Style: Strictly Business
What It Means: Rosie Carver is interested in one thing: getting shit done. She’s a CIA double agent, and her bikini reads just as professionally. Like, if her bikini could talk, it would say, “Yes, I am here, but only to cover up these lady parts that typically get blurred out on TV.” Carver can kick your ass, and in the event that she must kick your ass, she can’t have frivolous things like tassels and stringy items getting in the way. I like to imagine that maybe she ran her own fight club in her spare time.

Pictured: Gloria Hendry in Live and Let Die
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Photo: Everett Collection.
Phoebe Cates, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Bikini Style: Fantasy
What It Means: Linda’s just trying to go for a swim, but Brad and his teenage hormones can’t handle it. He gets one glimpse of her in the pool with her red bikini and imagines her seductively removing her top as he gets busy with his own self in the pool house. Too bad she accidentally walks in on him in the bathroom and catches him in the act. Does anybody fucking knock anymore? So, while her bathing suit is 100% real, its role in the film is fuel for fantasy.

Pictured: Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
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Photo: Everett Collection.
Carrie Fisher, Return of the Jedi (1983)
Bikini Style: Involuntary
What It Means: Listen, the only reason Princess Leia is in this bikini is because Jabba the Hutt is gross. She’s temporarily his slave, and this is the only outfit made available to her. But know this: That bikini’s made of metal. Sure, you could see her metallic garb as a kind of additional shackle of her imprisonment and exploitation by a giant slug. But the optimist in me wants to see it as a symbol of Leia’s steely determination and bravery.

Pictured: Carrie Fisher in Return of the Jedi
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Photo: Dimension Films/Everett Collection.
Salma Hayek, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Bikini Style: Vampiric Stripper
What It Means: Everything about this exotic dancer’s bikini ensemble suggests that maybe she’s not a regular person. I mean, she’s got a huge snake wrapped around her body. She’s even got these devilish horns on her head. And she’s walking all over the tables barefoot, not even worried about getting a piece of broken glass in her foot. Of course she’s going to try to eat you.

Pictured: Salma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn
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Photo: 20thCentFox/Everett Collection.
Angela Bassett, How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)
Bikini Style: Beach Read
What It Means: Angela Bassett’s Stella is based on a popular novel, about a single mom who goes to Jamaica and falls in love with a guy who’s half her age. (Gasp!) And you know what? This bikini is exactly what I imagine the main character of a romance novel would wear: pink, simple, romantic, with hints of “what happens in Jamaica kinda, sorta stays in Jamaica.”

Pictured: Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back
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Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Christina Ricci, The Opposite of Sex (1998)
Bikini Style: DGAF
What It Means: I wish I meant Dede’s DGAF attitude in a bad-gal RiRi sort of way. Alas, I mean that this woman literally cares for no one except herself. Long story short: She gets pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, runs away to live with her brother, and tricks another man into thinking he impregnated her. She ends up killing her ex-boyfriend and going to jail. Anyway, this black bikini is almost as black as Dede’s heart. Cigarette definitely not optional.

Pictured: Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex
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Photo: Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection.
Denise Richards, Wild Things (1998)
Bikini Style: Late-‘90s Chic But Also a Total Illusion
What It Means: Between the halter top and baby-blue hue, this bikini is an embodiment of everything late-’90s. It may even be from a Delia’s catalog! But this movie was basically Inception before Inception, in that every plot is actually a plot inside another plot inside another plot. For all we know, that bikini isn’t a bikini at all! It’s a parachute! But only for a moment, before it’s actually revealed to be the wedding dress of Kelly’s colonial ancestors! We could go on like that forever, guys. The only person who knows everything is Suzie (Neve Campbell), who you can safely assume is the mastermind behind everything — including your own life.

Pictured: Neve Campbell and Denise Richards in Wild Things
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Photo: Everett Collection.
Gwyneth Paltrow, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Bikini Style: Momentarily Suspicious But on the Brink of Starting a Lifestyle Brand
What It Means: Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) definitely killed Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), but the only person who seems to believe that is Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), Dickie’s (widowed?) fiancée. She’s so accusatory that Ripley nearly kills her, too. So now that she’s without her beau and nothing left to do, doesn’t her bikini kind of suggest that she’s the sort of girl who would just say fuck it and start her own lifestyle brand? Perhaps be an Instagram influencer?

Pictured: Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley
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Photo: Paramount Pictures/Photofest.
Ali Larter, Varsity Blues (1999)
Bikini Style: Get Me the Eff Outta Here
What It Means: Darcy (Ali Larter) has one mission: Marry a football player and get the hell out of Texas. And honestly, I don’t blame her. She’s not exactly living in the alternate universe of Dillon, where she could have a happy life with one Tim Riggins. She’s living in West Canaan, where the football coach is mean and there isn’t a Tami Taylor in sight. Her whipped-cream bikini is an attempt at locking down Mox (James Van Der Beek), the quarterback du jour and her new best chance at escaping the tiny football town. This eye-candy bikini makes perfect sense for her character.

Pictured: James Van Der Beek and Ali Larter in Varsity Blues
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Photo: Courtesy of Eureka Pictures.
Elizabeth Banks, Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Bikini Style: Here to Party
What It Means: Multi-colored bikini? A make-out style that’s rooted in cheeseburgers but is mainly reckless abandon? A goddamn puka shell necklace? Lindsay is not messing around at this summer camp. She’s here to play tonsil hockey and eat snacks.

Pictured: Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer
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Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Halle Berry, Die Another Day (2002)
Bikini Style: Thanks, But No Thanks
What It Means: Yes, Jinx’s bikini is an homage to Ursula Andress’ Dr. No suit. She recreates the iconic emerging-from-the-ocean scene. She even gets captured by the bad guys, just like her predecessor — twice! Except Jinx has a little more agency than Honey Ryder. She’s working for the NSA, not just hawking shells on the beach. She even gets to kill a guy and doesn’t have sex with Bond. So, this bikini is kind of like, “Yes, I get what I’m supposed to be doing here, but I’m also going to do my own thing. Thanks.”

Pictured: Halle Berry in Die Another Day
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Photo: Universal/Everett Collection.
Michelle Rodriguez, Blue Crush (2002)
Bikini Style: The (Snarling) Voice of Reason
What It Means: Sometimes you need a friend who isn’t interested in telling you what you want to hear. That friend is Eden (Michelle Rodriguez). She’s all, “That guy is using you” and, “Focus on the surf competition, Anne Marie.” It turns out the guy is actually good, but she is 100% right that Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) needs to get her ass back on the surfboard. That’s why she almost always pairs her bikini with shorts — a metaphor for putting on your big-girl pants and just handling things already.

Pictured: Michelle Rodriguez in Blue Crush
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Photo: Focus Features/Everett Collection.
Ludivine Sagnier, Swimming Pool (2003)
Bikini Style: Mirage
What It Means: Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) is the kind of girl who turns heads. But she’s also the kind of girl who bashes heads with rocks. Oh, and she’s also the kind of girl who may just be a figment of a writer’s (Charlotte Rampling) imagination. Anyway, this bikini might not even be real, like an oasis in the desert. Spooky!

Pictured: Ludivine Sagnier in Swimming Pool
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Photo: Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock.
Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (2003)
Bikini Style: I’ve Gotta Do Flips in a Jet Ski, So Give Me as Much Coverage as Possible Without Obscuring the Fact That I Am Ripped
What It Means: Sometimes the Queen of England asks you to track down Pandora’s Box, and you’re like, yeah fine, that doesn’t interrupt my plans at all. And so you do the job, making it look like the easiest thing you’ve ever done. You’re doing flips in jet skis. You’re kicking ass. Your bikini is functional, but you’re based on a video game character, so it can’t be so functional that it isn’t also sexy.

Pictured: Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life
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Photo: New Line/Photofest.
Beyoncé, Goldmember (2002)
Bikini Style: A Queen So Important You Cannot Speak to Her Directly
What It Means: Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé), an undercover FBI agent and former lover of one Austin Powers, is a vision in gold. She’s a disco queen at Studio 69, and as she so often reminds us, a whole lotta woman. But she’s also mad as hell at Austin (Mike Myers). How dare he not call for eight years and then show up asking for help? Her gilded bikini is downright royal, and she maintains her position over Austin by not even speaking to him. Instead, she employs the help of an unnamed disco man (Nathan Lane) to have the conversation for her. Very into it.

Pictured: Beyoncé in Goldmember
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Photo: Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection.
Demi Moore, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
Bikini Style: Female Darth Vader
What It Means: What do Madison (Demi Moore) and Darth Vader have in common? They've both gone to the dark side and have an affinity for wearing black. She’s a former Angel who turns out to be the evil mastermind behind an intricate plot to expose the identities of people in the Witness Protection Program. She accidentally blows herself up, and the Angels are victorious. But still, way to totally abandon your Angel sisterhood and training for pure eeeee-vil.

Pictured: Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
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Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Rachel McAdams, The Notebook (2004)
Bikini Style: Avian
What It Means: If you’re a bird, so is Allie. Just look at her swimsuit. She’s like a northern cardinal, with her red-printed bikini and her fluffy little head piece.

Pictured: Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in The Notebook
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Photo: Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock.
Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Bikini Style: Barbie
What It Means: Ah, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). You really do try with Peter (Jason Segel). You read books! You consult a therapist! But you two were never gonna work out, because you are kind of a jerk and Peter is great. Unfortunately, this breakup does not excuse you from your rebound antics in Hawaii, nor does it excuse you from cheating on him for over a year. And through a series of flashbacks, we see that you are actually kind of like that nasty blond girl in high school everyone resented. So it makes sense that your bikini is seemingly designed by Mattel.

Pictured: Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
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Photo: Annapurna Pictures/Everett Collection.
Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Selena Gomez, Spring Breakers (2012)
Bikini Style: Anything Neon, Accessorized With Sneakers and Maybe a Weapon
What It Means: All these girls want is attention, and what better way to attract it than by wearing the loudest swimwear you can find as you cruise around Florida in some equally blinding scooters? Paired with hot-pink balaclavas and an automatic weapon, the subtext of these bikinis is basically "ACKNOWLEDGE ME AND MY POWER." I'm still undecided if this is a feminist movie — or, you know, any good — but there's certainly an interesting juxtaposition between the gratuitous shots of scantily clad youths getting hammered and those same characters shoving guns into James Franco's mouth.

Pictured: Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers
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Photo: Courtesy of Will Packer Productions.
Gabrielle Union, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, La La Anthony, Taraji P. Henson, Think Like a Man Too (2014)
Bikini Style: Girl Gang
What It Means: When you’re in a battle of the sexes, the best strategy is to walk around as a team, always. That means you’re at the strip club together. You’re stealing a party bus together. And yes, you are power-strutting in bikinis together. It doesn’t matter why.

Pictured: Regina Hall, Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union, La La Anthony, and Meagan Good in Think Like A Man Too
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