Another Look at the Bikini Question

We need to be careful not to encourage false confidence in a dress code

Clark compares our wearing a bikini in the company of men to someone following us around with chocolate cake when we are on a diet. Is this analogy fair? First of all, I am a woman made in the image of God, not a piece of cake. Isn’t that a huge part of the problem with our thinking about sexuality? I don’t want my daughters to think of themselves as some tantalizing dessert that needs to always be self-conscious that they look too good. Sure, I care very much about what they wear, and they would say that I am pretty strict, but I’m trying to send a healthy message about beauty and modesty.

 
I’m probably treading on thin ice with this article. The wiser part of my conscience told me to leave this issue alone. But this subject bugs me. And I know that it is the bane of many women’s summers—the bikini question. Not just for us, but for our daughters as well.

Rachel Clark wrote a thoughtful article challenging women to ditch their bikinis as a sacrifice for all the men around them who cannot control themselves. I respect her decision to wear a tankini or a one piece, but I cringe at telling women that they are not modest if they wear a bikini. As soon as we make it about bikinis and tankinis, I think that we are missing the point. Sure, there are many bikinis out there that are inappropriate. But this is also the case with one-pieces and tankinis.

Is stomach exposure really the issue? Are you really making a sacrifice for the guys around you when you are wearing a flattering tankini? And let’s face it, none of us want to walk around the beach in an unflattering swimsuit. Of course, this also begs the question, If a woman looks good in her bathing suit, is that being immodest? There’s also the question that I’ve asked before, Can a man admire a beautiful woman without sexually fantasizing about her?

Clark compares our wearing a bikini in the company of men to someone following us around with chocolate cake when we are on a diet. Is this analogy fair? First of all, I am a woman made in the image of God, not a piece of cake. Isn’t that a huge part of the problem with our thinking about sexuality? I don’t want my daughters to think of themselves as some tantalizing dessert that needs to always be self-conscious that they look too good. Sure, I care very much about what they wear, and they would say that I am pretty strict, but I’m trying to send a healthy message about beauty and modesty.

I happen to think that there are some perfectly acceptable bikinis out there. I really like the sporty-looking ones. They have good coverage, and they are made for active women. And we all know that moms with little ones are very active in a swimsuit. It’s assuring to know that everything will stay in its proper place while we are running around.

Let me just talk practical here for a moment. Tankinis usually bunch up and get all twisted when you swim. And you can forget about turning on the jets in the hot tub (can modest girls get in hot tubs?). And with one pieces, well, we have the bathroom challenge. Clark admits to the bunched up tankini and is happy to sacrifice her comfort to deter men’s eyes:

I don’t really want a guy to look at me and notice me for my butt, upper thighs, or chest. I’d rather him notice my smile or God-loving personality.

The last time I checked, bikinis are no different from one-pieces or tankinis for the backside and the chest—some are modest, and some are not. Should modest women then be told to wear a swim skirt? It is making a comeback after all. That would help us keep men from looking at our upper thighs. A guy that wants to look at you like a piece of cake is not going to bother with your God-loving personality.

Do men notice our smile and our God-loving personality at the pool? Well, I hope so, but they are also going to notice we are in a swimsuit. Should we just separate the men from the women at the pool? Is a tankini really going to protect men’s eyes enough? These thoughts make me not even want to go to the pool. That way we would really be protecting the men.

While I want to be loving to the men around me and keep their struggles in mind when I dress, this is not the main point of modesty. As I said in my response to Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s article challenging all women to wear skirts, “We’ve done a disservice to the virtue of modesty if we whittle it down to the way we dress. Our thoughts, our speech, and our behavior are also a reflection of modesty. It has to do with our humility before a holy God and our proclamation of the gospel story. I aspire to modesty, but I am careful to say that I am not actually there. Calling myself modest is kind of like calling myself humble. The Lord is still patiently working on me.”

I basically hold to the same theological argument in response to the bikini question as I did the skirt challenge, so I encourage you to read the article in its entirety here.

A woman can be very immodest in a one-piece. I think we need to be careful not to encourage false confidence in a dress code. And I really think we need to be careful about insinuating that others are less holy in a bikini.

Aimee Byrd is a housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV. She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children. She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared; it is used with her permission.