Tuesday, June 25, 2013

on bikinis and choice

Kate at Something-Ivory posted an entry to her blog on Monday which highlighted swimwear designer Jessica Rey, and showcased a video of Rey speaking about the Evolution of Swimwear.   I hadn't heard of Jessica Rey, so I appreciated being exposed to the message.  As I watched the video, it was hard to forget the context surrounding it.  Clearly, Rey is selling a product, and while her passion for the topic is clear, so too is her agenda: the success of the video will undoubtedly impact her sales.  And while I’m not faulting her for this at all (it shows keen business acumen, actually) I also think it’s important to recognize that her pocketbook stands to benefit from the popularity of her video.

The premise of the video (and Rey’s swimwear line) can be summed up with her company tagline “who says it has to be itsy bitsy”?  Her swimwear line is for women only, and features one-pieces.   She prides herself on being able to dress modestly, while not being "frumpy and dumpy", and teaches women that they can and should dress this way as well.


(You knew that was coming, right?)

While I appreciate the allure of a one-piece swimsuit (and understand why some women would favor them) I completely reject the notion of this version of dress (this subjective "modesty") as being better than any other.  Rey says that wearing one-piece swimsuits allows our “dignity” to be revealed.   I’m not sure why I’m required to cover myself up (just the skin between my hips and my ribs, by the way)  to reveal my dignity.  My dignity is inherent to my being, whether I’m in a bikini or a burqa, and teaching otherwise is a foolish mistake.  That kind of lesson perpetuates the archaic belief that a women’s worth is tied both to the way she is dressed, and the way she is perceived by others, specifically men.

Speaking of men, she has several minutes of the video dedicated towards some limited research regarding the way that men's brains respond to seeing women wearing bikinis.  Rey said "Analysts at the National Geographic concluded that 'bikinis really do inspire men to see women as objects, as something to be used rather than someone to connect with'".  That's a bit misleading, as she left out the fact that the study featured 21 undergraduate men, who were shown only two sets of images: fully dressed women, and women in swimsuits that happened to be bikinis.  While I'm no scientist, I would suspect that the men would have the same reaction to viewing two sets of images, one having a fully dressed woman (the baseline) and the other image featuring women wearing any swimsuit at all - bikini or one-piece. (And to reiterate, this was a research study about bikinis that was conducted on 21 undergraduate men - likely between the ages of 18-23.  Not only am I not surprised that the swimwear had numbing properties to these young men's hormone-filled minds, but I'm also doubtful that a research journal would go anywhere near these findings).

Also - and this is way, way more important of a reason - when we hear that there are some men objectifying some women some times, why is it that we try to change the women?  A man is objectifying me, and somehow that is my problem, not his?  (This is teetering dangerously close to the "she was asking for it in her short skirt" rape excuse).  A woman should not have to dress to keep a man in check.  That's not only sexist and wrong - it's stupid.

Rey goes on to say that "this is surely not the kind of power that women were searching for... to be seen as an equal, to be seen as in control, and to be taken seriously.  It seems as if the kind of power they are searching for is more attainable when they dress modestly".   Oh dear.   Since it's 2013, I kind of thought this went without saying, but just for the record: if I need to dress a certain way to be "seen as an equal" than you have a much bigger problem then your distaste for the way I am dressing, because I am an equal, and no bikini on my body can change that.

Make no mistake: I fully respect the right of women to choose one-piece swimsuits (or to buy one of Rey's designs)!  It is absolutely possible that I may make that choice down the line as my personal tastes change.  But as women, I think we're doing each another a major disservice by teaching that our "dignity" - or our inherent equality - is dependent upon dressing or acting a certain way.


  1. Hear, hear! I choose to wear a tankini, not because of the male gaze or because of my dignity, but because I feel comfortable. If a girl wants to wear an itty-bitty bikini and feels good about it, than more power to her!

    Whenever I hear the word "modest", I think of 19 Kids and Counting, and it makes me unhappy.

    1. That's exactly it - women (all people, really) should wear what we feel comfortable wearing. Bikini, long sleeve swim gown, whatever. And I refuse to apologize for wearing what I want to wear, and what I feel good in, even if I don't fit in to someone's "modesty ideal". To me, that's their problem and not mine.

      Agreed - the term "modest" has a very negative connotation to me too.


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