UPDATE July 24th: American Apparel is flying pool-barred bikinied barista Lisa Conn to its L.A. headquarters to pick out some free bikinis. For the full update, go here.
Lisa Conn loves to swim. The 30-year-old South Philadelphia barista usually wears a swimsuit under her dress so that she can jump into one of Philadelphia’s public pools at a moment’s notice. But she claims that her American Apparel bikini led to “harassment” by male city employees at two public pools this week, and that she wasn’t allowed to swim at one of those pools as a result of her choice of swimwear.
The trouble began on Sunday, when she was in Hunting Park with her boyfriend. She decided to take a dip in the public pool, arriving in her American Apparel bikini, seen here. Except the staff at the pool wasn’t having it.
“The large male security guard refused to let me swim,” she recalls. “He said I could not get in wearing a ‘bra and panties.’ Those were his words. I insisted it was an American Apparel swimsuit.”
According to Conn, the guard then instructed the lifeguard, also a man, to check the tag on the inside of her bottoms (it reads “AMERICAN APPAREL SWIM”), which she allowed him to do.
Once the lifeguard verified that Conn was, in fact, wearing a swimsuit, he granted her access to the pool. She was embarrassed but, as she puts it, determined to complete her mission. So she jumped in.
But he didn’t let up.
“He ridiculed me loudly,” she says. “He told everyone that I was swimming in a bra and panties. I finally left, asking for his name, which he refused to give me. I came in smiling and happy and left on the verge of tears.”
Conn tried to call and report the incident to the supervisors of the park but only got a voicemail box that was full.
The next day, Monday, she put on the same American Apparel bikini and went to the popular Sacks Pool at 400 Washington Avenue near her home. And again, she ran into problems.
“There was a male supervisor present, and the scenario was almost identical,” she says. “With the exception of a female guard checking my ‘SWIM’ tag. But I was not allowed to swim at all. He also used the term ‘bra and panties.'”
Conn demanded a name, and he gave one to her. But it was apparently a fake. “When I called Sacks the next day,” she says, “they said that no one by that name works there.”
She fired off “I am a taxpaying citizen” letters to various city government offices and to her councilman, Mark Squilla, but received no response.
“Now I hear from my female friends that I am not the only one this has happened to,” she says. “I am flat-chested. My two-piece reveals nothing. I don’t know if this is a bullying thing, a race thing, or humiliating women for the sake of it. But I pay my taxes and I love my pool. I don’t want any woman to be made to feel the way that I feel.”
According to Lisa Whittle, aquatics coordinator for the city’s Parks & Recreation department, there isn’t really any written rule regulating what style of swimwear is allowed at Philadelphia’s public pools, just so it is actually swimwear and not “bra and panties,” which would violate the Pennsylvania health code.
Whittle called Conn’s experience “unfortunate,” adding, “We certainly don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable in our pools.”
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