It's Not About What I Wear to the Beach

Ah, summer!  The time of year when the temperature magically rises, and we celebrate by spending more time outside in less clothes!

What does this mean?  Naturally, it means a load of blogs, videos, websites and sermons talking about female modesty.  Pardon me if this is the procession of faces I make upon seeing them:


I just get a bit bored of the same conversation I've heard for about fifteen years.  When you are a Christian tween girl and cross the church threshold from children's ministry to youth, it begins.  A process from "Girls, bring your swimsuit!  Pool party and BBQ!" to "Young ladies, bring your one-piece modest swimsuit to this ______ where there will be people clearly looking to see where the top and bottom of your bathing suit are located."  

Here's why I think we shouldn't be preaching about feminine modesty: because girls already have enough people telling them that their worth is tied to how they appear.  They have grown up in an era where everything on television tells them that they have to be ornamental princesses, then they have to be sexy tweens taking selfies BUT they also have to be un-slutty and keep from distracting boys with their spaghetti straps and short shorts.  It's awful, and constantly adding more rules about skirt length and tightness of t-shirts just add more awfulness to a really difficult age anyway.

When I was 16, our church youth group took a few vans full of teenagers to the beach.  I was beyond excited.  A chance to be at the beach without my parents where I could learn more about Jesus and go swimming (which was pretty much my favourite summer activity).

I had purchased a new swimsuit that summer, one that I should add that my grandmother helped me pick out.  It had a skirted bottom and a wrap top with a Hawaiian print that made me think of Esther Williams.  I wished I had a flowery rubber shower cap to wear as well.  I had absolutely no thought about whether it would be too skimpy or whether it would attract boys' attention.  Again, my grandmother helped me pick it out.  I had worn it several times, and it was great for swimming in and didn't drift or move around while jumping, sliding, etc.  In an I Dream of Jeannie-like twist, it also came to just above my bellybutton.  I loved it.

This is Esther Williams in a very similar suit.  She is MUCH prettier than me, and was a champion swimmer before becoming a Hollywood film star.  

The sad thing is, I was then told (at a pool party prior to this trip) that it wasn't really appropriate.  I was later told by someone who was not one of my parents that Jesus calls girls to modesty, and two piece bathing suits weren't a part of that.  

Imagine being someone who has never dated or kissed a boy, and being a girl surrounded by friends with boyfriends and not having anyone of the opposite sex ever express an interest in you.  Now imagine being a lover of Jesus and devourer of God's word.  Then, imagine being told that because of a swimsuit, maybe your relationship with God isn't where it ought to be.

I  couldn't understand why the boys were allowed to wear no shirts and look incredibly appealing, but wearing a two-piece was harming my ability to connect with God and interpret Scripture.  In addition, I had this massive responsibility for the godliness of every single male ever.  Those who felt uncomfortable in swimming clothes at all wore shorts and long shirts, generally keeping away from the pool altogether.  Suddenly, it was a massive challenge to think of anything but the bodies of those around me, when I should have been more focused on soul and spirit.  What was worse, I began to suspect that both Christians and non-Christians, women and men, were more interested in my body than my mind and heart and abilities.  

Back then, I was pretty upset and confused.  Now, I'm angry.  What I choose to wear to the beach or pool is my business alone, and it has nothing to do with personal modesty or my relationship with the one who made my body in the first place.  

When I'm surfing, I wear a string bikini underneath a wetsuit.  I tried once to wear a skirted one piece, and uncomfortable hours of trying to stuff it in and remove it later, I gave up.  When I was pregnant, I was uncomfortable in a tighter fitting suit for two ginormous reasons, so I changed to a very hilarious enormous flowery monstrosity (you can read all about it).  When I'm at the beach hut with my toddler building sandcastles, I tend to wear a two-piece with a sweatshirt on top, just because I find it difficult to remove a one-piece filled with sand.  When I'm swimming in the frigid water of our local area, I wear a one-piece for warm with a borrowed rash vest to keep my arms from freezing.  When I'm lounging in the yard or doing water play with children, I wear a two piece with a fancy caftan over it. 

See, the reason that I happen to go to the beach or pool is to enjoy it.  I refuse to worry anymore about protecting the men around me because they are just that: men. Adults can make the choice about who they want to look at and find attractive.  

Now, you may want to make the argument that teenaged boys are different.  They have no control about whose body they are looking at.  Sorry, let me change that.  They have no control about whose body they are objectifying. So, teach them.  

Teach them that girls and women want to be able to swim, read, sleep, build sandcastles, rest, play football, study their bible and splash in the waves for the pure joy and fun of it, just like boys do.  

Teach them to look a woman in the eye, every time, no matter what she's wearing.

Teach them that the imperfect bodies that they see in real life were designed and made by a Creator.

Teach them that what they will inevitably see in pornography isn't real.

Teach them that the mind and heart and soul inside can't be judged by what's on the outside, whether its Victorian swimming costume or a Brazilian bikini or somewhere in between.

If we could teach our sons and daughters and nephews and nieces and grandchildren and friends and youth group about the real worth of a person, we could change the attitudes of an entire generation.  Imagine a world where men and women of all ages could interact without fear of being judged by what's on the outside.  




Comments

  1. As long as a woman feels comfortable in her swimsuit and it fits well, how other people view her shouldn't matter. A swimsuit is a matter of personal choice; other people's opinions, a woman’s figure or anything else but how she feels while wearing it should not dictate its style.

    Ceilia @ Chynna Dolls

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  2. I totally agree with you. Dressing is a matter of comfort and personal preference. No one has a veto on how another person's dress code should be. Unfortunately, that is the case with many women. A man is free to dress the way they like; women have to get approval from others first. I salute your courage.

    Bernice Cunningham @ Guardian Industries

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