Friday, June 21, 2013

Evolution of the Swimsuit - A Response.

For anyone who has not seen the video, "Evolution of the Swimsuit," you can watch it here:

Most of you know by now that I am against the moralization of one-piece swimsuits. I am writing this response because a) a few people have asked me to, and b) because there are many, many things I disagree with this woman about.

First of all, Jessica Rey is the designer of a line of "modest" swimsuits available online, and this talk she gave was a promotion of that. In this review/response I will attempt to look at what she says in her speech and what her website shows about her belief on modesty.

1. The Itsy-Bitsy-Teeny-Weeny-Yellow-Polka-Dot-Bikini

In this video, Rey discusses this song by Bobby Darin as part of her defense as to why women should be modest. Here are the lyrics:

She was afraid to come out of the lockershe was as nervous as she could beshe was afraid to come out of the lockershe was afraid that somebody would see
Two three fourtell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikinithat she wore for the first time todayan Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikiniso in the locker she wanted to stay
Two three fourstick around well tell you more
She was afraid to come out in the openso a blanket around her she woreshe was afraid to come out in the openand so she sat bundled up on the shore
Two three fourtell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikinithat she wore for the first time todayan Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikiniso in the blanket she wanted to stay
Two three fourstick around well tell you more
Now she's afraid to come out of the waterand i wonder what she's gunna donow she's afraid to come out of the waterand the poor little girls turning blue
Two three fourtell the people what she wore
It was an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikinithat she wore for the first time todayan Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikiniso in the water she wanted to stay
From the locker to the blanketfrom the blanket to the shorefrom the shore to the wateryes there isn't anymore[ From: ]
From these lyrics, Rey says that the reason that the woman was struggling to come out of the dressing room and the water was because she has an "inner-sense of modesty" and knows that she should be more covered up. However, I very much disagree with this assessment. 
Throughout the song, Darin talks about how this woman was "afraid." She was afraid to come out of the dressing room, afraid to come out of the towel, and afraid to come out of the water. She was afraid someone would see her. He then goes on to "tell the people what she wore." I can find no other interpretation for these these other than she was afraid of judgment. She was afraid what people would think, what they would say, and how shocked they would be by what she wore. I don't believe at all that it was an inner-sense of modesty that this woman had - if that were the case, she wouldn't have bought the bikini in the first place.
This is what I spoke to in my previous post. We are such a judgmental culture that women are afraid to step out in public wearing something that might be considered immodest and might cause men to stumble, and that is absolutely the wrong motivation to wear certain items of clothing. Women should be able to decide for themselves what they want to wear, what they are okay with wearing, and what kinds of fashions they enjoy. (I have said this before, but I don't want to step on the toes of parents who disagree with me - whatever you teach your children is your business and your right. Children and teenagers need to follow the rules of their parents. I am strictly talking about adult women who are no longer under parental authority.)
Wearing a bikini in the 50's and early 60's was groundbreaking. People absolutely would have judged that woman for wearing what she did, especially when we remember what life was actually like for women in the 50's.

2. Life in the 50's
Rey points back to the 50's and talks about how it was a time when women were seen as "classy." She uses Audrey Hepburn as an example of what it means to be "modest" and fashionable at the same time. She goes through how women would wear long one-pieces and would change in their own "boxes" before venturing out onto the beach.
Going back to the time of the 50's as an idyllic time is astonishing to me. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why that time period is better than today. I know that many people say it was a simpler time and life was "good" back then, but here's the thing: even though women were "modest," they still weren't respected as equals.
Women had their "place" in the 50's, and it was just commonly known what a woman/wife was supposed to do and be. She was supposed to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, she was expected to clean the home, and she was supposed to have dinner ready on the table for her husband when he came home from his long day of work. 
The History Channel says,
"In fact, the booms of the 1950s had a particularly confining effect on many American women. Advice books and magazine articles (“Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young,” “Cooking To Me Is Poetry,” “Femininity Begins At Home”) urged women to leave the workforce and embrace their roles as wives and mothers. The idea that a woman’s most important job was to bear and rear children was hardly a new one, but it began to generate a great deal of dissatisfaction among women who yearned for a more fulfilling life."
...Does that sound like equality to you? Now, hear me out: I'm not saying that women need to work in order to be equal to men, but the encouragement of women to marry young, leave work, and only stay at home is a definite sign of inequality. Equality would mean encouraging women to do what they wanted - if they didn't want to get married young, great. If they wanted to work, great. If they wanted to be stay-at-home wives and mothers, great. 
There is a reason for the feminist movement in the 60's. Women were dissatisfied with their lives and felt suppressed by society - they weren't allowed to do what they wanted, but rather were expected to stay at home. No matter how "modest" these women were, they were still treated unequally. Here are just a few ads from that time period:

3. Reaching Back to Another Time as Idyllic for Modesty
Okay. This just... What? I don't understand this. Not only was the 50's a time of inequality for women, it was also a completely different culture than we live in now. If we were to take the same kind of mentality, then why not go all the way back to this:

Honestly. THAT was "modest" in a different time-period and culture in America. If we're not satisfied with what is acceptable in our culture now, then why not go all the way back to the 1700's and 1800's? That's the slippery slope you get into with that kind of thinking. It's illogical and unsound.

Fashion and what is acceptable is completely culture.  As I have stated in previous posts, there are different cultures all over the world where different kinds of dress are culturally acceptable and unacceptable. Women cover up much more down in Haiti than on the beaches in Europe, and there are tribes in Africa where the women don't even wear tops. So what is culturally acceptable in the United States? 

Now, before we go to that place of listing out what is and isn't acceptable, remember this: There was never supposed to be a complete separation between Christianity and secular culture. The Pharisees separated themselves from the "sinners" by their legalism, and look where that landed them. Yes, we're supposed to be "in this world but not of it," but we are also called to be culturally relevant. How can we even remotely reach out to those who don't know Christ if we're constantly worried about how much fabric we or they are wearing? 

4. "It's about revealing our dignity."

Honestly, most of my responses to this video are... "What?" Jessica Rey's full quote is, "Modesty isn't about covering up our bodies because they're bad. Modesty isn't about hiding ourselves. It's about revealing our dignity."

I'm not going to give this quote much time, but...

Okay. To give Rey some credit, I'm glad that she said what modesty shouldn't be about (even though it really is), but here's my question. Where's my dignity hiding that it only comes out when I've got the right amount of fabric on my body? Does my dignity run away until I plaster 6 inches of fabric over my torso and then all of a sudden it shouts, "HEY I'M HERE." No. I am a human being. And as such, I have dignity - no matter what I'm wearing. Case Closed.

5. Have you SEEN the website? Who are these swimsuits made for, anyway?

Okay. I'm confused. I went onto the Rey Swimwear website and looked around, and not only did I find that these are not one-pieces but tankinis, they also seem to be made for rich, thin, young women. Granted, there are some swimsuits on sale for $29, but the average is $49 (plus shipping) and it goes upwards to $90 for the swimsuits that Rey talks about being inspired by Audrey Hepburn (which I'm assuming she promoted her so women would want to buy those styles - which is honestly just being a smart saleswoman). 

First off, as Dianna Anderson (a fellow Christian Feminist, and here is her website) pointed out via Twitter, tankinis are DANG hard to swim in - the tops are impossible to keep down when you're in the water, and that makes things just incredibly complicated and frustrating. 

Secondly, the sizes for these swimsuits only go to 16. There are no plus-size options. So what happens then to the women who desire to be modest but only fit into plus-sizes? They aren't good enough to buy those swimsuits. 

The point here is this: for all the talk that Jessica Rey does about how important modesty is for all women, she has a pretty narrow view of what women's body types are like and doesn't adjust accordingly so that all women who want to be modest can be. It's easy for her to think about being modest because she's tiny. However, many other women are not. Abi Bechtel responds to this kind of attitude toward plus-sized women in her blog post, "Fat, Modesty, and Eating Twinkies Naked."


I know that there are many other topics in the video that I didn't hit on - I didn't mention the Princeton study simply because I haven't done the research required to know exactly what that's about (even though I know there are too many variables in that study for me to consider it credible and I completely disagree with surveying only men in their early 20's). I also partly didn't go into everything because I'm a week out of major surgery and I'm tired. I only have so much energy to be angry about so many things (haha).
All of this being said though, I am very disappointed to see so many people loving this video. I think it appeals to all those who already agree with Modesty Culture so this is something they can point to in order to say, "Aha! See, SCIENCE!" Unfortunately though, actual critical thinking really hasn't been involved on this. 
I am desperate for people to actually think critically about the things they see and hear. We so often read and watch things that we agree with and fail to interact with it on an intellectual level. Instead we like what we hear, so we automatically hit "share" on Facebook and Twitter. We refuse to actually have intelligent discussions on matters like these but instead stomp our feet and point the finger at those who disagree with us (I know it's true, because I unfortunately do it all the time). 
Please, friends. Please think critically about these things. Please don't just look at your own side of the debate - interact and discuss with those you disagree with, and maybe we'll find understanding and stop judging one another.
I invite discussion on all my posts. I really do. I want people to tell me what they think (in an intelligent and respectful way) so that we can talk about it with each other. That's the only way this discussion/debate is going to get anywhere and the only way we are going to have peace even in our disagreements. 

*For the record, I don't care what you decide to wear to the beach/pool. If you want to wear a one-piece, tankini, bikini, speedo, etc., I honestly don't care. Because the way I perceive it, the only thing that is culturally unacceptable in the United States is going nude. So whatever you decide to wear, wear it. And wear it confidently. 

**Also, I've noticed some passive-aggressiveness towards me on my Facebook in regards to this topic. If there's anything that I hate, it's that. If you have something to say to me about what I believe and want to talk about it further, please tell me. Not everyone else on Facebook. If you want to comment on my posts, awesome. I'm completely open to that - I want to invite that as long as it is well-thought and respectful - and I look forward to discussing this issue.**

***This post is part of a Synchro-blog/Link-Up on From Two to One. Make sure you check out the other amazing posts on there!***


  1. So many good points that I didn't even think about. Thanks for this.

  2. Love this post. I could go on an on about the dangers of making women's bodies public domain. You handled this with sophistication and class.

  3. 1.) My heart behind where I stand: I do believe that each person needs to make their own clothing decisions. But my goal is to help girls make an INFORMED decision. Not to just do what everyone else is doing - but to really put some though behind their actions. I challenge them in modesty, in dating, and in their physical relationships. I look at the history of where we've come from. A lot of the "norms" today are from people fighting or their own satisfaction - especially during the sexual revolution. WE WANT THINGS OUR WAY! There has to be a line drawn somewhere for believers. We cannot just flow with the culture because ours in one that seeks to glorify self and not God. It doesn't matter to me what is socially acceptable in the States or anywhere else in the world. I want what is acceptable to God. And I do believe that that will not look like what the rest of the world will do.
    I am so passionate about this because I was never presented with the opportunity to see that their could be a different way of doing things. I went with the culture and found that it doesn't work for someone trying to seek after Christ. I made poor decisions in my clothing and my dating life which cost me dearly. Through sharing my story I have seen too many women broken over the same things. If only we'd known better.
    So I speak on this topic now so young girls and moms can have a plan. To know where they stand instead of just going with the flow. To hopefully save a few girls from the heartache I went through for many years and still affects me today.
    2.) You assume that people who are for modesty do not think critically. I have done a lot of research on the topic which has brought me to what I believe today.
    3.) I am a reformed bikini wearer. And when I did wear one I was very self conscious- and not because I felt judged. I used to have a great body before all these kids! It was because I felt naked - exposed. I KNEW that I should not be wearing it. I knew it was being worn for the wrong reasons. I did have an "inner sense of modesty" that caused me to feel so uncomfortable. I knew it was not glorifying Christ when I wore it. How is a bikini any different from walking around in your bra and underwear? I can't find any differences - and I knew that in my heart of hearts.
    4.) As to the last part of your post (if it is referring to me):
    I will admit that when I posted this video on FB yesterday my comments partly in response to your previous blog. But I also posted because I am so passionate about this issue and I like to share new findings. But if it did upset then you are doing exactly what you hate. You did not respond to my post - you wrote a blog. I do not have a blog - so what I share is done on FB. I am sorry if it offended you - it was not done for that purpose. I do enjoy a good debate - something I miss about college. It is good to be challenged on what your believe. And I like to see other people's perspectives.

    1. (I know I replied on Facebook, but since I found your comment I wanted to post my reply so others can see our conversation)

      Hi, Gen --
      Thank you for the comment!

      I'll go point by point and interact with what you commented:

      1. I completely understand your point of view. Before 6 months ago, I was a huge proponent for modesty. I think we both come from opposite sides of the spectrum - I grew up with Modesty Culture and am now moving out of it, whereas it sounds like you did the opposite thing.

      I completely understand that you personally have a conviction not to wear certain articles of clothing, and I respect that. I am a full supporter of people who have personal convictions on that end and I want to empower women to do what they feel called to do.

      When it comes to modesty, I would personally much prefer women to have a positive self-image and respect for themselves than police what they wear. In an ideal world, yes, this would come with clothing that shows that a woman respects herself, but I want this motivation to come from within - not for an external motivation of needing to please others.

      Please hear me out when I say I do understand where you're coming from. We just disagree.

      2. I'm sorry if it came across that I was thought people who were for Modesty Culture didn't think critically. This is not what I believe - I think a number of them (not all) don't, but unfortunately that's a flaw in modern Christianity - we fail at thinking critically in general and end up going to extremes on both sides of the argument (on many different topics). Again, I apologize if I came across that way.

      3. I totally get your question of the difference between a bikini and a bra and underwear - however, I personally cannot justify that a one-piece is better simply because it has a few more inches of fabric on it (even though the entire leg and often times most of the back is still exposed - and many one-pieces have plunging necklines - and we wouldn't wear something like that in other places either).

      4. The reason I did not approach you directly on what you had said yesterday is because I didn't have proof that you were saying it about me. If you had shared my link or mentioned me then I would have said something, but I would have felt very rude in commenting when it wasn't directed AT me. I also posted a general statement because this has happened with more than one person, and instead of going around asking everyone if they have an issue with me and if what they said was directed at me, I felt it to be more prudent to issue something general. It wasn't meant to be passive-aggressive. I saw a problem and addressed it specifically to a general audience since there are multiple posts I have wondered about. I do also want to say that my blog was not written in response to your Facebook post. I saw that video while I was in the hospital, but did not have the energy to respond until this morning and also wanted to make sure I said everything that I wanted to say.
      Finally, thank you again for your comment. I really do appreciate it, and I'm thankful for dialogue. I know that you and I will probably never see eye-to-eye on the issue, but communication is SO key in discussions like these. Even though I disagree, I respect your position on this topic.

  4. Okay Bethany, first let me just say that I am old:) To me the question is not whether or not we have the right to do something, it's about why we want to do it. To me, Christ's life here on earth was a confrontation of the heart. Why do we choose the things we do, why are we following rules, why, why, why. I have asked my 7 and 9 year old daughters WHY they want to wear a bikini and as to date they don't have a good answer. I am not questioning whether or not we have the right (because we do) but what is motivating us to make our decisions. WHY???

    1. Ah yes, this is where I know I disagree with a lot of people. I believe that clothing is (or should be) morally neutral. So for me, the question of why I or someone else wants to wear a bikini isn't as relevant as other questions might be. Personally, I wear bikinis because I enjoy the fashion, I think they're very comfortable, I love how fun they are, and I think they suit my body type much better than one-piece swimsuits do (I feel extremely self conscious in one-piece swimsuits, but I don't in a bikini because I know I can find some that fit me well).

      The questions that I would much rather ask women are how they view themselves - what's their self image like? Are they happy with who they are? Do they feel content in being who God made them to be? Those are the questions I would much rather have answers to.

      Hope that makes sense!

    2. I wear a bikini because one-pieces and tankinis aren't built for women who are a small on the bottom and an extra-large on top. I didn't wear a bikini in elementary or middle school because one-pieces and tankinis fit me better.

      I'm not saying YOU have this assumption, but one of my biggest problems with the Modesty Police is their assumption of what is in my heart. Also the Modesty Police in my own life have mostly been skinny and flat-chested, and thus never encountered clothing choices from the same perspective that I have.

  5. Hmm. I hear you Bethany, I do. It's true that at the end of the day, to lust or not to lust is the choice of an individual. Each one should exercise self-control, and we human beings; as women, should not be ashamed of our bodies and should be free to be pretty and comfortable, whether in a bikini or a burkini or whatever.

    Personally I do not feel comfortable wearing a bikini. Maybe I'm afraid of being judged, maybe I feel ashamed, it's not something I over-analyse. I am one of those who heartily clicked 'like' on the Jessica Rey video, and I've had time to think about why - yes, some of us 'non-bikini-wearers' do think critically :). I realised that it's really because as a Christian, whether I've been brainwashed by 'modesty culture' or not, I do feel there is pressure from the world to conform to the idea of being beautiful/sexy by revealing your body. Let's not fool ourselves, the spirit of the world is in direct opposition to that of Christ, and the current culture is more sex-saturated than ever before. For me, the video was reassuring, it told me 'hey, you are STILL beautiful even if you are covered up. You don't have to wear a bikini to be cute and relevant.' Am I necessarily going to buy Jessica Rey's swimwear? No. But I'll definitely be more confident and assured even when I'm covered up. At the end of the day I want to live a Christ-glorifying life, and I want there to be external evidence of my faith.

    1. Thank you for your comment!

      I completely understand where you're coming from. I used to be in that exact place. Also, I apologize for coming across that no one in Modesty Culture thinks critically. I think a good number of them don't, but I also know others do, so I apologize for not communicating that well.

      In regards to feeling pressure from the world, I agree. I think women can feel pressure from both sides, and that is exactly what I'm fighting against. I'm much more interested in how women perceive themselves and whether or not they are comfortable with who they are and what they look like than what they're wearing.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  6. I love all the vintage ads here. EXTREMELY telling. And I especially like this point:

    "I am desperate for people to actually think critically about the things they see and hear. We so often read and watch things that we agree with and fail to interact with it on an intellectual level. Instead we like what we hear, so we automatically hit "share" on Facebook and Twitter. We refuse to actually have intelligent discussions on matters like these but instead stomp our feet and point the finger at those who disagree with us (I know it's true, because I unfortunately do it all the time)."

    I've been thinking a lot about this dynamic lately. It's almost as if many of us (me included) have become a bit addicted to engaging these viral posts and videos as consumer products, without seriously considering the greater complexities that they are leaving out.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rachel!

      And yes, I agree. I have noticed so often that I watch/share things on the internet without actually being critical of what I just saw. Once I actually think about it, more often than not I realize that it doesn't actually contain as much "truth" as I thought it did.

      I'm hoping we as a "Christian" culture start changing that epidemic - too many Christians blindly follow what "sounds" good, when we're actually supposed to be testing everything.

  7. Bethany, thank you so much for this piece, and especially for this insight: here's the thing: even though women were "modest," they still weren't respected as equals.

    I am convinced that whatever some people in power say women need to do to be right with God, with the church, with their families, once women try to accomplish that then the people in power will say they need to do something else. It's not really about getting things lined up with God's revealed word; it's really about power. The sad thing is, many of the people in power in American Christianity don't know that it's power they are seeking rather than Jesus.

    In fact, if the people in power focused on Jesus, I think they'd see that dress codes and nostalgic desires for some supposedly "better" time are not important any more. The Spirit of Christ has that effect on people.


    1. I really like how you said it's really about power. It's so true - we so often don't see that, and it's a really upsetting thing. To focus on Jesus instead of our clothing would change so much.

  8. Yes! Everything about this post is so right and needs to be said. Especially the part about how culture changes! "When the bikini first came out, it was really shocking THEREFORE everyone forever should not wear them"... seriously?

    I am SO DONE with modesty. Just wear something that's within the range of what people normally wear and it's fine. At the beach, a lot of people wear bikinis. IT'S FINE.

    1. It's so funny how people say that people shouldn't wear bikinis because they were once shocking - women wearing pants was once shocking too (and considered immodest and un-feminine). Does that mean we're not supposed to wear pants either?! It's definitely not a sound argument by any stretch of the imagination.

  9. Great post. What is up with the idealization of the 50's? Ick. Let's stop and think, just for a minute, about that society as a whole....... marital rape was legal in some states. Water fountains were racially segregated. Domestic violence was joked about. Is that really where we want to be? Anyway- good thoughts.

    1. Thank you! And I totally agree with you - the people who point back to the 50's as being ideal are normally the ones who were privileged during that time, don't understand what actually happened during that era, or they weren't born during that time period so all they see is the romanticized "Audrey Hepburn" age instead of discrimination against women and African-Americans.

  10. At first I really liked where Rey was going with her discussion, as she seemed to be focusing on the discomfort of women with skimpy swimwear, rather than the offense against men. But when she pulled out the brain study, I found myself thinking, "Well, here we go again..."

    I love that she's looking for stylish ways to bring back the one-piece. I've never been comfortable with bikinis. but it's like pulling teeth to find one-pieces that I don't feel slightly dopey in. But I think we need to stop presenting modesty as an acquiescence to the male gaze, and start honoring it as women having the right and dignity to dress in a way that they are comfortable with.

    1. I understand where you're coming from, Amanda. However, I would challenge you - I'm not saying this is why you dress the way you do (obviously only you know your intentions, and this is coming after reading your post on modesty as well) - do you dress in a "modest" way because that's what you prefer, or does it come from insecurity? I'm not saying we have to let "everything hang out" because I enjoy having some coverage as well, but I'm wary of using the word "modesty" in order to explain away some women's insecurities. I know I have insecurities about my hips, so I tend to cover those areas more - same with my tummy.

      Again, I'm not saying this is why you dress the way you do, but I'm just concerned about that with women in general. I do like your statement though, "...we need to stop presenting modesty as an acquiescence to the male gaze, and start honoring it as women having the right and dignity to dress in a way that they are comfortable with."

      ^Having the ability to dress in a way that we as individuals are comfortable with is what I strive for - not to attract or detract attention, but simply because it's a fashion we enjoy and are comfortable in.

  11. Thanks for posting. I have some long ingrained ideas on this topic, and often have a difficult time reconciling the old with my new feelings. I want to raise my daughter to be comfortable in her skin. I REALLY hope I can go without stereotyping "Men" as scum and "Women" as bait when the topic arises.

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