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A wet T-shirt contest is an exhibitionistic competition typically featuring young women contestants at a nightclub, bar, or resort. They have traditionally been a staple of college spring break celebrations at locations such as Daytona Beach and Cancún. A wet T-shirt contest is not, however, a swimsuit competition.
Contestants generally wear white or light-colored T-shirts without bras, bikini tops or other garments beneath. Water is then sprayed or poured onto the participants' chests, causing their T-shirts to turn translucent and cling to their breasts. Contestants may take turns dancing or posing before the audience, with the outcome decided either by crowd reaction or by the opinions of judges.
In racier contests, participants may tear or crop their T-shirts to expose midriffs, cleavage, or the undersides of their breasts. Depending on local laws, participants may or may not be allowed to remove their T-shirts during their performance.
In a wet T-shirt competition, each young woman must cheerfully exhibit her nearly naked body (to the watchful eyes of the judges and spectators) by walking onto the stage alone. The white T-shirt might only barely cover her breasts. As the judges and spectators watch, pitchers of ice cold water are poured onto her breasts. This has the dual effect of chilling her nipples (rendering them erect) and making the T-shirt translucent (so that her breasts and erect nipples are essentially exposed). Her bust, waist, and hip measurements may be loudly announced to the spectators. She must strike different poses and dance. She must emphasize the firmness and shapeliness of her breasts and buttocks by vigorously shaking them for the approval of the judges and spectators. As she exhibits her young body to them, the spectators shout out comments about her body to each other and to her. The judges carefully view, fully evaluate, and numerically grade the young woman's exhibited body, including her bare feet and legs, her buttocks, and her covered but visible breasts and erect nipples. Her exhibited young body's numerical grade may be then loudly announced to the spectators. Later, a ranking of the numerical grades for each of the exhibited young bodies may be loudly announced to the spectators.
The idea of the wet T-shirt contest originated in Spain in the 1940s, around the same time as the introduction of the Spanish festival La Tomatina. La Tomatina is a large public tomato fight where participants become soaked with juice from tomatoes.
In the United States, skiing filmmaker Dick Barrymore claims in his memoir Breaking Even to have held the first wet T-shirt contest at Sun Valley, Idaho's Boiler Room Bar in January 1971, as part of a promotion for K2 skis. He held another promotional contest for K2 on 10 March 1971 at Aspen, Colorado's The Red Onion restaurant and bar, and the contests were featured as in a pictoral in the March 1972 issue of Playboy. Later, wet T-shirt contests made an appearance in Palm Beach, Florida in the mid-1970s. Contests were becoming frequently hosted in local bars and restaurants. Many sources claim that the popularity of wet T-shirt contests can be traced back to Jacqueline Bisset's appearance in the 1977 film The Deep, where she swam underwater in several scenes wearing only a white T-shirt.
In 1997, teenagers from Portland, Oregon, celebrating the completion of high school held a wet T-shirt contest on a Boeing 727 to a Mexican resort, with a flight attendant encouraging the activity. An FAA investigation followed, as pilots supposedly judged the contest on the flight deck, disregarding rules that passengers are not allowed in the cockpit. A video showed contestants emerging from the cockpit wearing wet T-shirts. The FAA disciplined the pilots for sexual misconduct.
In 2002, teenager Monica Pippin brought a federal lawsuit against Playboy Entertainment, Anheuser-Busch, Deslin Hotels, Best Buy, and other companies relating to her appearance the previous year in a Daytona Beach wet T-shirt contest, at which time she had been a 16-year-old junior at Florida's Plant City High School. Pippin had danced topless during the contest and had allowed men to pour jugs of water over her bare breasts. After footage of her performance began to appear in videos and on cable television, a neighbor alerted Pippin's parents, who retained a lawyer. Although Pippin admitted in court that she had lied to contest organizers about her age, her attorney claimed that, as a minor, she was unable to give informed consent to perform or be filmed topless. Pippin settled with Anheuser-Busch and Playboy in April 2006.
In a similar suit in 2007, two women sued Deslin Hotels, Girls Gone Wild, and various websites that published footage of their appearance in another 2001 Daytona Beach contest. The two girls, who were both sixteen at the time, had been filmed exposing their breasts, buttocks, and vulvae, and touching each other's breasts in a suggestive manner. Like Pippin, they had lied about their age to gain admission to the contest.
In 2003, Youngstown, Ohio, television news anchor Catherine Bosley caused some controversy by entering a wet T-shirt contest at a bar in Key West, during which she stripped and appeared fully nude. After footage of the competition was broadcast online as well as on a local television station, Bosley resigned. Bosley is now a reporter and news anchor for WOIO (CBS) in Cleveland, Ohio.
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