Friday 21 October 2016

You say bikini, they say burkini. I say it's nobody's business what women wear

Lorraine Courtney

Published 07/09/2016 | 02:30

What we wear at the beach is no one’s concern
What we wear at the beach is no one’s concern

Do you think what you wear on the beach is your own business? You're wrong. But if the burkini is the sign of a repressive society, then what is the body-shaming reaction of Western society to the body of a woman in a bikini, deciding if she's 'beach ready' or not? At the heart of both stories is the same unhealthy obsession with women's bodies and how they should or shouldn't be displayed.

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This summer was the 70th anniversary of the bikini. The two-piece was launched in France in 1946 by engineer Louis Réard; this was also the summer the bikini died. Loads of retailers are reporting plunging bikini sales and a rise in sales for one-piece swimsuits instead. Victoria's Secret has even announced that the company will stop selling swimwear by the end of this year and introduce a new 'athleisure' line in its place. For years, the bikini body was a tyranny we couldn't get away from, but it appears that we've finally had enough of the 'beach body' shaming and are covering up instead.

Marks and Spencer became the first British high-street retailer to launch an Islamic swimwear range in the UK earlier this year, and high-end designers Dolce & Gabbana launched a 'modest wear' line of beach clothes in January.

The short-lived French burkini ban culminated in a woman being forced to remove her burkini by armed guards on a beach in Nice. Rather than dividing women, it has brought women together instead.

For those who do not know it, the burkini is a bathing suit. It looks like a wetsuit and it covers the body from head to toe. A few weeks ago David Lisnard, mayor of Cannes, signed a decree that forbids wearing burkinis on public beaches. The decree was soon issued by a few other mayors of cities on the Côte d'Azur. The justification for the ban - "In France, one does not come to the beach dressed to display one's religious convictions" - was illiberal and oppressive. You see, stripping women of their choice, and literally punishing them for what they wear, is the sort of thing morality police do. There was a sneaking understanding and admiration for the 34 year-old woman, who gave only her first name, Siam, after she was fined €38 for breaking the new law. Purchases of burkinis soared by 200pc in a show of sisterhood.

What happened to women being free to wear whatever they want? The burkinis on Nice's beaches weren't the first time that an item of women's clothing caused a political storm.

What women wear has always hidden deeper fears about sex. Back in the dark ages of the 20th century, the Pope condemned the two-piece bikini, although for different reasons. It was banned in Italy, Spain and Portugal for a time and, despite Brigitte Bardot posing on a Cannes beach in a bikini in 1953, it took a long time to catch on.

It did catch on and nowadays it is hard to find a women's magazine in springtime that isn't bullying us to starve, wax and exercise our bodies into looking perfect in a bikini.

Do you know how many non-Muslim women look at themselves in the mirror and literally dream about being able to go to the beach wearing a burkini? A few summers ago, a survey of UK and Irish women by Slendertone found that 83pc of women hated the way their body looks in a bikini so much that they dread going to the beach. Just 6pc said they were happy with how they look and the remainder said they would wear a hat and baggy clothes and "hide away" while on their summer holiday. The solution for more than a quarter of women surveyed was to have plastic surgery to make their tummies flatter and 17pc said they wanted to have surgery on their breasts.

So what should we do now? Nothing. We should keep our noses away from female bodies and give them the choice to uncover or cover themselves as they want on the beach.

Finally, we might be able to imagine a joyful world where women can wear bikinis, burkinis or whatever the hell they want on precious blue-sky days without someone trying to protect them from their own decisions. How much boob or bum to display on the beach should be our own choice to make. This is the brilliantly subversive conclusion to the random collision of bikini and burkini stories from summer 2016.

Irish Independent

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