I Wear A Bikini (Gasp!)

Earlier this summer, I watched two teenage girls playing in a pool. They were both carefree, both playful, and both fairly new to their suddenly womanly bodies. The first wore a bikini, the other a one piece swimsuit with a high neckline and shorts. The first was an exchange student from Europe, the other my sister. As I watched the exchange student frolic in her bikini, innocently and without a care in the world, I wished that I had been able to be so comfortable in my body so early.

It is difficult for any girl in today’s culture to have a healthy body image. The media, whether it’s television ads, billboards, or fashion magazines, emphasizes female perfection and holds up a model that is impossible to obtain. My parents actually thought that by teaching me the importance of modesty and that what matters is what’s on the inside would help counter these negative messages and result in a healthy body image. Nope, sorry, that didn’t work for me.

As I looked at the two girls in the pool, I thought back to when I was their age. Back then, I dressed in the same swim uniform as my sister, a modest one piece swimsuit and shorts. I didn’t simply wear this because I was required to wear it; I wore it because I would have felt subconscious, embarrassed, ashamed, and immodest without it. I didn’t like my body. I believed that my body was ugly and unattractive. Wearing long, baggy dresses and shorts with my swimsuits actually helped, because it allowed me to mask my ugliness beneath a cloak of virtue.

The truth is, the relentless drone of “modesty” is enough to make any good Christian girl wonder what is wrong with her body. Cover up! Don’t wear that! Put on another layer! Why? Because there is something wrong with the naked female body. There is something to be ashamed of. While the modesty-supporter will never say that to a girl, that is the message I received.

My parents and those like them call for modesty because female beauty invites lust. They believe that you must, in any way necessary, stop lust, for it is the same as fornication and adultery. The only way to stop lust is to cover the female body. Beauty is then bifurcated into “bad” beauty that attracts lust and “good” beauty that is merely aesthetic. “Worldly” beauty invites lust, girls are told, so you must be beautiful in an asexual girlish way, sweet and smiling under yards of cloth. Do you see how confusing this can be to a girl, a girl who naturally wants to be beautiful but is almost afraid to be recognized as such? Hide it, cover it up, keep it hidden under long jean skirts and high necked blouses.

My parents told me that beauty is fleeting, and that it’s what’s on the inside that matters. This may on the surface seem like good advice for a teen girl struggling with becoming a woman, but to me it simply said “yes you’re ugly, but that’s okay; get busy with your homemaking skills and you may find a husband yet.” The thing is, appearances do matter. Teenage girls desperately want to know that they are beautiful and desirable. They need to be taught to take care of their bodies and how to properly groom themselves. They need to learn about body language and be told that clothes send messages. I didn’t get this stuff. All I got was “outward appearances don’t matter and for goodness sake don’t wear something that would make one of your brothers in Christ stumble!”

I am reminded of something I read recently for my studies. Supporters of segregated schools argued that they were doing what was best for both races, allowing children to study together with those who were like them in equal facilities. The problem, besides the fact that blacks and whites were rarely given equal facilities, was that this sort of separation sent black children and white children alike the message that there was something wrong with being black. Supporters of segregated schools swore up and down that this was not the intent of segregated schools, but it was nevertheless the result.

The modesty issue is similar. Parents who teach their daughters exacting standards of modesty claim that they are merely trying to protect a beautiful thing, trying to keep girls and the young men around them pure in heart and mind. They claim that they don’t teach that the female body is evil or something to be ashamed of, only that lust is evil and should be avoided. The problem is that if you tell a girl often enough to cover up and not show her body, she will inevitably come to the conclusion that her body is something problematic, something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden and ignored.

The funny thing is, my mom is extremely comfortable in her body. When I was young she used to wear short sundresses and bikinis, and even today she is confident in her self image and proud of her looks. But then, she was raised in a fairly ordinary American family and grew up being confident in her body. She was a child of the 1970s. This confidence remained with her, and I don’t think she ever realized the damage her teachings about modesty were doing to her growing daughter.

Even after I left my parents’ home and beliefs, I remained ashamed of my body. I didn’t think I was beautiful or attractive. My body repulsed me, and showing it made me feel embarrassed and immodest. It took me years before I was comfortable swimming without shorts, and years more before I was ready to attempt a two piece swimsuit. For some time, even wearing short sundresses made me incredibly self-conscious. Learning to be confident in my body is a process that has taken years.

This summer, for the first time in my life, I am comfortable wearing a bikini. I put it on and walk to the pool across the way to the pool without feeling the need to hide behind my towel or cover my naked skin. Finally, finally, I like my body. I am comfortable in my body. I feel beautiful. I love who I am.

As I watched those two teenage girls splash water at each other several months ago, one an exchange student and the other my sister, I thought about what I had lost. The exchange student was not particularly pretty, but she was comfortable in her body. She wore her bikini with pride, and felt no need to cover up. I looked at my sister and I saw myself at her age. Ashamed of my body, embarrassed by my naked skin, quick to cover up and hide a body I believed was ugly. I looked at the exchange student swimming next to her, and saw the girl I wish I had been and the confidence I only now have gained.

This post calls for pictures. You see, in the last couple decades an entire cottage industry has grown up around providing girls like my sister with modest swimwear. Yes, some of these swimsuits are kind of cute, and (most) of these girls look happy, but remember the messages that are being sent. These girls are learning that there is something wrong with their bodies – something they need to cover up.

If you want to check out some more “modest” swimsuits, go here orhere orhere. They seem to be proliferating, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them at homeschool conventions in the future! Finally, I have to ask, if you’re going to go down this road, why not go all the way? There certainly can’t possibly be any lusting going on here! (Yes, these are swimsuits!)

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09779444962182438901 Enigma

    I agree 1oo%. Excessive modesty made me extremely self-conscious and I’m still learning to be comfortable in my own skin. First generation Fundies like our parents had no idea what they were doing when they taught us this stuff. now if only they would listen when we tell them it doesn’t work! I wear a bikini now too by the way. :) I still feel a little awkward at times, but my husband claims i look awesome. haha :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11557037093560947882 Anne — QuicksilverQueen.com

    I've always had a bit of a weight problem (something my dad reminded me of occasionally…in fact, he probably mentioned my weight more than he ever said I looked nice in anything), and always felt ashamed of my body. Though I'm not sure it had so much in my case to do with "modesty" teachings so much as, my dad saying "do you need a second helping?" and telling me to watch what I ate.My husband wants me in a bikini sooner or later…but I think that will be a while. I don't wear shorts with my swimsuit…I bought it at Walmart…but it is a slightly more "modest" style…at least for people who are used to bikinis. It's got a low wrap front, and a skirt that ends just beneath my rear. It actually looks sorta like a sundress. Even still, I kind of obsess over what DOES show of my legs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    A woman in our neighborhood wears a burquini, as I call it. :(

  • Dawn

    Very interesting and well worth contemplating. I, too, grew up having to wear a one piece modest suit. Not easy to find when you are almost 6' tall girl, other than old lady suits. I don't think I'll ever be comfortable in a bikini, and I don't think you want to see me in one, either. :-) Believe me, I was fed all the kool-aid, too, about dress; maybe not as extreme as you (I could wear pants), but my sister has been drinking the kool-aid and her girls wear dresses all the time. Although, one adult daughter now has rebelled and wears *gasp* capri's, jeans, and low-cut tops. (She also lives with her boyfriend.)I have friends who have their girls wear the types of suits that you shown, but their reason is to prevent skin cancer. They have a friend from South Africa who introduced them to these suits.It's so refreshing to see someone survive and recover from the conservative mindset.

  • Final Anonymous

    Have you been to Europe? I haven't, but in my dealings with Europeans here in America, it seems like many of them don't have the same hang-ups. I remember seeing a little boy and girl, no younger than 5, jumping through one of the fountains at DisneyWorld… completely naked! They were old enough that it shocked me, but they were completely innocent about it, as were the adults around them from the same family. Even other onlookers quickly realized it was a "cultural" thing and mostly seemed to give them a pass. I wonder if that's common? Seems healthier to me!

  • Jennifer

    You raise some interesting issues in this post, but I would have to say that I disagree with the main thrust. The problem is that nakedness is a cause for shame… if the fall had not happened, this would not be the case. But there are parts of our bodies that are not appropriate for the world to see. Genesis 3:9 says "…I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." It is right for us to be uncomfortable showing certain things to the world because of our sin and our imperfect state. You said in your post (and I quote) "Finally, I have to ask, if you’re going to go down this road, why not go all the way? " I would suggest that both ways can be taken to the extreme. I'm sure you would never take your bikini off in public, but where does your conviction stop? Is there any part of our bodies that should be covered? God never meant for women to wear burkhas and hide the beauty that he gave them. But as a wife I'm sure there are certain things that you view as sacred and for husband's eyes only. As a fellow daughter trying to find the balance, I would just encourage you to look to the Word for your standard. The world sets a cruel and harsh standard that is not based on the values that God places on His children. Our identity needs to be found in Christ who is a loving teacher and father… our culture only seeks to make us feel good about ourselves. I would suggest that this is not the life goal of a follower of the King.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05927558035256871985 Rachel

    In my family, modesty was preached as the MOST IMPORTANT thing a woman could do. We weren't quite as tense about most things…but when it came to what we wore in public, there were SO MANY RULES! No cleavage, shorts AND t-shirts with our swimsuits, NO bikinis, no shorts except swimming, no tank tops…the list goes on…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15528465833214550644 Katy-Anne

    I have a two piece swimsuit, but it's one of the "modest" ones. :pI love it. As a plus sized woman, I don't want to see myself in a bikini, even though I'm fine in shortish skirts and shorts. I love my swimsuit, it makes me feel confident that I look great, and I got a really flattering pattern that I love (zebra print).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jennifer – "As a fellow daughter trying to find the balance, I would just encourage you to look to the Word for your standard. The world sets a cruel and harsh standard that is not based on the values that God places on His children. Our identity needs to be found in Christ who is a loving teacher and father… our culture only seeks to make us feel good about ourselves. I would suggest that this is not the life goal of a follower of the King."I don't believe in God. I don't feel any need to use a stone age religious text as my guide, and I don't see Christ as a "loving teacher and father," but rather as imaginary and a human invention. I haven't actually found anything "cruel and harsh" about the world and it's standards, but I found plenty cruel and harsh in fundamentalism and its standards. I don't see anything wrong with wanting to feel good about myself – seriously, I spent way too much time as a fundamentalist trying to convince myself that I was an evil wicked person desperately in need of salvation. As for my ethics and morality, I am a humanist, which means that I value people and seek to make the world a better place for everyone. So while I see nothing wrong with having a healthy body image (i.e. "feeling good about myself"), I'm not a hedonist or a narcissist. I also don't think that there is anything inherently shameful about nakedness, and I think that any shame people feel in nakedness is merely cultural, not natural. Look at native tribes around the world – nakedness is usually quite common and normal. This would definitely seem to indicate that shame at nakedness is cultural, not natural.

  • http://www.facebook.com/themaryb Mary Beth

    I relate to this post so much! In my case, it is actually not my parents who enforced the modesty standard on me, but the conservative Mennonite churches we attended. My dad always said the whole idea of "guarding men from lust" was pretty much stupid (hey, my dad used a lot harsher words than that), because men were going to lust after a woman regardless of what she was wearing. I wear bikinis now and am completely comfortable with my body, but even just last summer, I wanted to wear shorts with my bikini. Even after I started wearing pants (I used to be dresses only), I hated wearing shorts or any skirts above my knees because I thought my legs were ugly and had to be covered up. I was SO self conscious about my legs. I never really thought about the modesty issue affecting body image this way, but I think you make really good points!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03702441292981376229 Darcy

    This year, for the first time at the request of my husband, I donned a bikini. Know what? I looked like everyone else and no once noticed, lol. It's taken me years to be comfortable with my body. And to not hear a loud voice crying "defrauder!" everytime I feel cute. :P

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    I wore those swim dresses growing up. I still can't stomache wearing less than a tank top and shorts to swim. I have many many insecurities about my body, sometimes I still fight feeling disgusted with myself for eating. I am slowly getting more confident (I want to blog about that soon) but it has been a long journey. Great thoughts! Some of my most visited posts of all time over at my blog were the ones I wrote on modesty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10942187922246383744 Amy

    Loved this. I've been wanting to write one just like this. I, too, just bought a bikini this summer. Oh yeah, oh yeah.I've worn one before. A few summers ago, before we some how ended up on this crazy roller-coaster that took us deep into the bowels of a fundie church. I think it was/is partially because of all the stress we had getting out and dealing with that place that I am currently the heaviest I've been. (I'm still in shape… just not where I'd like to be! Aren't we all.) Even so, wearing a bikini top makes me feel so much more confident than wearing a frumpy, baggy shirt to cover and distort my body.Women should be able to EMBRACE the beauty of their bodies, rather than cover them up in fear and shame.

  • Anonymous

    God never meant for women to wear burkhas and hide the beauty that he gave them.Maybe, maybe not. In the subset of the Muslim world that wears burqas, I don't believe that they make the same assumption you do.Of course, as we say, if horses could paint, they would paint gods like horses. Or, more concretely, it's amazing how often people find God has all the same opinions they do. You think a certain specific standard of modesty (neither burqas nor bikinis and probably not nudity) is what God intends because that's the certain specific standard of modesty that you favor. But everybody thinks the same thing. More clothes than they think is okay is oppressive, less clothes than they think is okay is immoral. Even when they disagree on the amount of clothing….

  • jemand

    @Anonymous 12:58,Well I think nude beaches sound perfectly natural and fun. I also think less clothing than nude is DEFINITELY immoral.I also, can't figure out what that means, no skin? :PSeriously though, you have good points.

  • Gina

    @ Anonymous 12:58: Well said!:) May I borrow this?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    [...]it's amazing how often people find God has all the same opinions they do.Anon' nailed it. All God-belief is self-projection. For the most part, believers have their own idea of "morality" and which body parts to cover before they ever crack open a Bible or Qu'ran, depending on which culture one is born into.And BTW, I'm surprised the Muslim women saw fit to paint their toe-nails. On the other hand, I guess it is technically covering something up. = /

  • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

    I love bikinis, even though grad school has made me gain a bunch of weight and I'm not as comfortable as usual in them.My bikini is not about how I look to other people. It's about the fact that I have the right to feel the sun on my skin and touch the world without imposing layers of fabric and rules.To Jennifer, above: where exactly does the Bible tell you which parts of a woman's body are sacred? The Song of Solomon talks about a woman's entire body. Should we cover our necks because one of the Bible's writers considered the neck sacred to marital intimacy? See, "modesty" itself is also a potential slippery slope that ends with nothing uncovered. And there is no indication in the Bible where the line should be drawn. In Genesis, it says that God gave Adam and Eve aprons. Modern Christians all consider the breasts to be major offenders and conceal them at all costs, but "aprons" could be interpreted in a few ways, some of which don't include covering the breasts and most of which wouldn't cover more than the front.The best part about leaving fundamentalism is making some decisions that are not about other people. I wear what I want (including bikinis) because I want to interact with the earth – feel the wind and sun and water on my skin – not because I want anything to do with somebody else's sex drive.

  • Anonymous

    You can absolutely borrow it :) The part about horses is a quote already, though from whom I'm not entirely sure….~Same Anon from before.

  • maevza

    I was not raised with the emphasis on modesty that alot of you were. We wore normal bathing suits and shorts yet I have never been comfortable in bikinis or sleeveless tops and the reason I felt self conscious was because growing up and into my 20's I was very thin and bony. Now that I am alot older I still don't feel comfortable in bikinis or sleeveless tops because I am now overweight and lets face it older overweight bodies and some types of clothes just don't go well together.So what I am saying is that sometimes what people choose to wear is based on other things than modest and hating your body. And by the way, if dressing modestly is suppose to draw attention away from body, the style of those modest bathing suits would certainly draw attention to the person wearing them.

  • Maria

    Love this post and conversation!

  • http://laluneargentee.wordpress.com/ laluneargentee

    Men are more visual than women, so looking at a woman is something they're going to do, no matter what women wear.I loved that scene in "Age of Innocence" where Newland unbuttons Ellen's glove and kisses the inside of her wrist. That was one of the hottest scenes ever filmed. But part of the whole culture was that female bodies were so restricted, not just covered, but corseted and layered, that that tiny bit of personal skin became a focus for Newland's lust. In locations where Islamic extremists are in charge, women who wear full burqas will be punished for showing more than a hand. Even a shoed foot can be grounds for the morality police to punish the woman. So, I'm echoing a bit of Anonymous' comments. But I do think that the focus of this culture on the approval of violence and the disapproval of sexuality is what has led us to the glorification of war and the patriarchy.

  • http://joylfelix.wordpress.com/ joylfelix

    Wow – those swimsuits are pretty um – interesting. My husband has done a lot of travel in the middle east and has noted what the commenter above said – that men are going to look because they are men and in regions there, they still noticed the eyes of the women and would comment about how beautiful they were. In our travels, we have also seen how cultural modesty is. What is modest in America is not the same as what is modest in Europe or Africa or Latin America or Asia. I guess what I have noticed in that is just look around, see what the normal attire is and try and blend with it. Whether that means wearing miniskirts in Japan or low cut shirts in Latin America, go with it – you'll mark yourself as a tourist otherwise. I'm glad you are addressing this – so many women are confused by how they can possibly be beautiful – is it a sin? It sucks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04111733916488169449 NarnianGirl

    Hmm. As someone from Scandinavia who was brought up in the open sauna culture and where swimming in the lakes (style of swimsuit nonessential) was seen normal, I have no issues with my body and am fairly comfortable showing it. Within limits, that is: just because I don't have a moral police patroling on the beaches here, doesn't mean I would like to provide free entertainment to every man by wearing a bikini.I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I would like to point out that there is still truth about the notion that seeing a woman's body does affect a man. Decent men are fine with that and don't behave as cavemen, but there are always idiots who can't hold themselves and throw lewd comments at females whom they consider attractive. Why would I like to expose my body in fron of them? why should I? Let's not forget that some guys may be struggling. I have had a man confess how embarrassed he was having to spend time with his friend's wife and see her in a glamorous bikini. He did his best to not look at her, but, it made him feel very uncomfortable in what was supposed to be a fun outing among friends. Being still single at that time, a half naked woman was a genuine temptation to his mind. It was like the proverbial kid in the candy store. 'watch but don't touch!' My heart just goes out to him!It goes both ways: I don't particularly care to see a handsome and attractive guy half naked either – rather save my eyes for my hubby… Then again, I have friends who don't mind wearing a bikini and they are fine with that. We all need to stick to our boundaries and what is acceptable within our own personal limits.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04111733916488169449 NarnianGirl

    And by the way, good for you for finding it in you to wear one…!I might be beyond remedy in your eyes because I actually find that 'Comfort and Elegance' picture rather alluring? ;) looks like what lots of girls and women wear on the streets here. At least it stays up and one doesn't have to worry about a strap falling off. Might be a good idea for a 'well endowed' gal like me..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Narniangirl – I think one difference between us is probably that I don't think that thinking sexual thoughts about another person is a problem. You mention guys who are "struggling." With what, I have to wonder? I don't think lustful thoughts are some sort of sin. Sure, if you act on your lustful thoughts in ways that hurt others, that's a problem. But the sexual thoughts themselves aren't. In my experience, guys who are "struggling" simply haven't realized this. And also, don't think layers of clothes prevent guys from thinking lustful thoughts. They don't.

  • Anonymous

    LOL, gotta love people telling atheists to "look to the Word" to find answers. Like, I know where Jennifer is coming from, but bark up the wrong tree much? Really you only need to spend about five minutes on this blog to figure out that you're no longer a Christian, Libby.Also, all of your good points about modesty aside, I wish that purple paisley number came in adult sizes. I love my tankinis (they're about the only bathing suit that's flattering on me) and I would wear that in a second!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11046641822669890457 Jenny

    It's amusing to see that, in those swimsuit pictures, modesty is all about what's covered and not about the poses. Sort of like how Alex and Brett Harris's Modesty Survey features a picture of a young woman with alluring eyes peaking seductively from over a sheer veil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03935383254039552080 Rebecca Newman

    Amazing post, Libby Anne – you put my thoughts into words so well! Yeah, my sisters and I also did the whole shirt-and-shorts thing going swimming,as well, and we had to wear skirts and jumpers with pleats and shirts up to our collar bones (which, according to my stepfather, is God's natural collar line) and no shoes with heels above an inch. Whenever we got new clothes, we had to parade up and down the hall and bend down for my stepfather to make sure all was modest. (Apparently the clothes didn't quench HIS lust at all – we later found out he sexually abused my sister, his other stepdaughter, whom he has raised since she was 3!) My sister Melody and I have left home – I went off to college without my stepfather's approval and Melody to massage school – and we wear whatever we want now, but I've always found it interesting that each of us has struggled with acute self-loathing. I have always thought Melody gloriously pretty and she is always being asked if she is a model and the guys flock to her . . . and yet she is convinced that she is far too thin and tall and bony. She wouldn't wear shorts and short skirts for the longest time because she thinks her legs are so unattractive. I feel like I am too fat, having somehow develeped hips and boobs even though both of my parents are quite slender. I don't weigh a lot for my height – 5'10" – but my appearance has bordered on the edge of anxiety for me during my years in college. I remember walking across the campus green and staring at the ground, afraid the I might meet someone I know, feeling, oh, so ugly! My roommate of all four years in college always amazed me – she has such a healthy self image, even though she is only average looking. She grew up secure in her drama-free family in the suburbs with two siblings and awesome parents. She's always impatient with my insecurities and tells me I'm the last person who should be worrying, I'm the prettiest girl she knows! I HAVE been getting better, though – I dated a guy for a year in college whose father adores his mother so much it makes me want to cry (my own dear mother is in the middle of a nasty divorce) and he told me all the time how beautiful I was and I could see in his eyes he meant it. Last summer was the advent of my own bikini, which I still feel extremely self-conscious in – I blame that on my stepfather along with all the other grief in my life!

  • Erin

    i'm torn, b/c I make my daughter swim in the SPF T-shirt/short shorts combo primarily for sun protection. Inside pools, we usually use a one piece or tankini. I'm not a fan of bikinis in general, although I couldn't quite tell you why. All that being said, I'm an atheist, and I don't ever want my daughter to feel ashamed of her body. Maybe she'll be able to tell where I'm coming from isn't a place of shame but a place of "You're Irish and fair and I need you to not get burned to a crisp." I'd certainly take any thoughts on the issue, though.

  • Nancy

    I stumbled across your site and have been reading it with interest! I know a lot of women who, although they weren't raised under the kind of parental modesty strictures you were, are still uncomfortable about wearing swimming suits because their bodies don't meet the media's standard for perfection. (Cartoonist Cathy Guisewite mined this trope for years in her strip "Cathy".) It's amazing that any woman can feel comfortable in her skin. So much depends on making us feel bad about our bodies so that we'll buy products to make ourselves feel better or accept being under the control of men. I swam competitively as a kid (and still do as an adult on a Master's swim team), so being in a swimming suit is natural to me. That said, I don't feel comfortable wearing a bikini. Racing swimsuits and sporty tankinis are more my style. After I had chicken pox as a kid, my mother made me wear a bikini for a summer because she thought the sun would make my scars fade faster. I was mortified and felt like everyone was staring at my poxy stomach whenever I went out in public, so I would put a t-shirt on over my swimsuit whenever she wasn't looking. Being forced to expose a part of my body that I was uncomfortable with made me dislike the entire concept of the bikini and to this day I don't like wearing them (even though my chicken pox scars faded years and years ago).

  • Anonymous

    I'm another one who would think that those suits would be good for kids to protect their skin. I grew up in Australia where it is totally normal for kids to wear a swim shirts and shorts (for girls these are worn over bikinis). Indeed people can be quite scathing about parents who don't cover their kids up for the sake of their skin. I spose the difference is that at some point the kids rebel and wear bikinis without being disowned, and the issue of swimwear was never tied up with shame and modesty in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I consider myself a pretty liberal feminist, but I've never thought of wearing a bikini as being particularly liberating. I do think it's ridiculous that a woman should be punished if she wears a bikini, but at the same time I wonder why the standard swimwear for western women is a bikini. Boys and men are able to function perfectly fine in swimming trunks, so why are women expected to wear a bottom that barely covers their lower half?I do think that a woman SHOULD be able to wear whatever she wants without anyone objectifying her, just as a woman SHOULD be able to kiss another woman in public without anyone watching. However, we don't live in an ideal world and the society we live in is one where women's sexuality is constantly objectified. Not to mention that most women feel the need to have a "hot" body first before they dare to wear a bikini in public. The "freedom" that western women have to wear a bikini, then, strikes me more as a joke. Unless the general attitude shown toward a female body changes, covered up or showing some skin women can't really win.

  • Meggie

    Continuing the Australian theme – I always wear a swim shirt & board shorts. I am pale – I burn – I don't want skin cancer. I made my children wear lycra swim shirts & board shorts for the same reason – they are pale and skin cancer is almost a guarantee in Australia unless you take precautions. We wear shirts & shorts at indoor pools as well because I don't want to buy a second set of swimmers for each child. As already mentioned above, parents in Aus are very critical if they see a child swimming without a shirt, shorts or a sunsuit on. It is never about modesty – always 'Why are you risking your child developing skin cancer?'I love the swimmers in your pictures. In fact, it is the Islamic swimsuits I particularly like. I would wear these but replace the hijab with a cap. Now, if only I could find a way to stop the top of my feet getting burnt – something I have suffered frequently!

  • Anonymous

    I cannot express the gratitude that I have felt as things like swim shirts and shorts came onto the market. I've always been a bit chunky and most of the swimsuits I have owned over the years have been whatever two piece non bikini types are available. Bikini??? Are you kidding me??? I think I owned one and I did use it to sun in my backyard (back before people were totally terrified of sunning themselves) but I would NEVER have stepped out in public in it. And in a weird sort of way, one piece suits are even worse, especially SOLID COLOR one piece suits. They show everything far, far more obviously than a bikini would. Before tankinis came out, my options were pretty hit or miss and many times I wore whatever suit I could find covered by a t shirt. Not interested in putting rolls of fat on display. Interestingly, I've been to a nude beach and that bothered me far less than swimsuits which always seemed like just such a no win situation. Unless you have a perfect body, they really are the most unflattering garments ever. I was actually eyeing some of those garments and thinking I would check out their websites. I'm betting that they sell more swimsuits than they realize to women are simply sick and tired of choosing between showing off bare jiggly flesh or jiggly flesh encased in skin tight spandex.

    • LutheranEmily


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04848458622058432379 Arachne

    Hah, my parents were the super modest sort, and that first picture of the little girl is the exact same kind of thing that the girls in my family wore swimming. I wore that suit up until I was 12 and grew out of the largest one handed down(we all wore the same hand-me-downs). When I started wearing just a regular one piece suit I was so self-conscious about my bare legs I hated walking from the beach to the water without my towel. I used to take it as close as I could get and toss it to a dry spot and run in the water.Although, while I'm not going to be going the whole "cover-up-girls-bodies" route with swimsuits, I do have both a daughter and a son with very fair skin that is very prone to sunburn(we have redheads) and the less possibility of a bad sunburn, the better. That means though, that both my son and daughter wear swim tops with their swim bottoms, and without much difference between them. Also, 2-piece suits are a life saver for newly potty trained kids!

  • Anonymous

    I looked at one of those modesty websites, and NONE of the suits would fit me. The site owners seem to think that all women have hourglass figures. I am very pear-shaped, like most American women. Any one-pieced modesty suit that would fit my hips would constantly fall off at the top.

  • Just a thought

    People can’t think of one other reason to keep your body covered other than causing men to lust? I know that there are many fundamentalists who believe that a woman’s body should be covered to keep men from lusting after their bodies, and to some degree I agree. If your whole purpose is to put on a bikini or any other article of clothing, accessory, etc. whether it is considered modest or not, to attract attention, then yes I agree. In reality if you are doing this then it can also be said that you have self-image issues as much as any woman who dresses modestly to keep men from lusting. I don’t think the point should be about modesty or immodesty as much as it should be about intent. To further complicate matters, what is modest to one person is not modest to another. I think your parents (as well as a host of others in the Christian world) missed the point. That is, we should do all things for Christ and in the love of Christ. If you don’t think Christ would approve of what you are wearing, doing, saying, etc. then abstain from it completely. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide and be in constant prayer so that you will be walking continually in the light of Jesus. At the end of time, we all have to answer to Christ for all the decisions we make and the things we say no matter how miniscule they may seem to us. As long as you are doing that then there is nothing more to be said. People are always going to have something to say about what another is doing, but in the end it is only Christs’ opinion that will count anyway. So live to please Him and ignore the rest.

  • Rosie

    I take issue with those who say women need to cover up to avoid inciting lust, or that some men “can’t help themselves” when they see a pretty woman, or even that “men are more visual” than women. In my experience (and that of other people I respect), women like to look at good-looking men just as much as men like to look at good-looking women, but somehow most of us keep from assaulting them. The larger issue is locus of control. Only one person can control any given person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, and that is *the person themselves*. This seems so basic as to hardly need repeating, yet so much of our language and conversation (especially when we’re not thinking about this) seems to indicate otherwise, to the point where people end up believing they are responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and even actions of others. As if they had any way to possibly have any meaningful effect at all on these things. So feelings and even thoughts may sometimes come unbidden…but the person they come to is the ONLY one responsible for any actions arising out of them. And just because thoughts and feelings arise unbidden doesn’t mean they’re CAUSED by somebody else. They all arise out of one’s own subconscious, one’s own past experiences, and the meaning one assigns to the particular circumstance. Only the one experiencing them can do anything about any of these things.

    So, as for swimsuits, I applaud anyone who will wear whatever they like! I personally want something I can trust to stay on when I ride in the inner-tube behind the ski boat; looks are secondary.

  • http://frog-monkey.blogspot.com.au/ Lucy Mayne

    I’m actually pretty confident in my body, but if you saw me at the beach, you’d probably think I had some modesty hang-ups, I usually swim in a long-sleeved swim shirt with 3/4 length swim pants. I live in Australia, the country with the highest skin cancer rate in the world, in Queensland, the state with the highest skin cancer rate in Australia, and I have very fair skin. I would dress a daughter in something like the first picture you posted, although I’d prefer it to leave less skin exposed.

    Of course, at an indoor/covered pool, I don’t worry about covering up.

  • Comrade Svilova

    The whole idea of not tempting MEN with women’s bodies is pretty heterosexist. :-) One of the fun things about swimming with my girlfriend is checking out other women together. We’re respectful and it’s just a fun thing that we can share (obviously, we’re both attracted to women!) and the female body is beautiful. I agree with the poster above who notes that it’s problematic to embrace revealing swimsuits as liberating, but if there’s one thing that’s obvious from the modesty discussion, it’s that whatever women wear is ‘wrong’ by someone’s standards, so we have to make the best choices for ourselves.