Monday, September 23, 2013

My Bikini Answer: My Body Is Not Sinful

This will not be my last post on modesty, but it is my final post on bikinis. I wrote this while on vacation on a houseboat in Tennessee with Beau and his family. The delay in posting comes from technological issues, two jobs, a cold, and a last-minute attempt at intersectionality.

Tuesday night.

Beau sits on the stool next to me, studying for the Professional Engineering exam.

I'm not wearing a bra. It's not obvious with both a t-shirt and a sweatshirt on, but I'm sure if anyone in his family looked too closely earlier, with my sweatshirt discarded, they might have noticed the droopiness of my unsupported boobs or the pointiness of my uncovered nipples. 

My wardrobe thus far has been a steady rotation of three bikinis, two cover-ups, and comfy pjs completely stolen from Beau's wardrobe: Super Mario pj pants, a t-shirt from ThinkGeek, and a rotation of the three sweatshirts he packed for us to share this week.

According to the original bikini post, my "immodest" clothing choices this week cause the men around me to lust

The way we dress impacts those around us, especially guys. 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...
Girls are walking around all the time with barely any clothes on at the beach or pool! Guys can never get a break from it, even if they’re trying to see past all the bodies to find the smiles and personalities within the girls.
So really, how hard is it to not wear a bikini? If you’re like me, it might be a little disappointing. You also might have to save a little more babysitting money to buy a cute (yes, cute ones do exist) tankini or one piece. But honestly, a little disappointment and a little extra cash aren’t that hard to swallow. Especially when such things are to fulfill a God given responsibility. In his Theology of the Body, soon to be Saint John Paul II said, God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman. He also assigns to every woman the dignity of every man. Let’s make a commitment this summer to ditch the skimpy swimsuits, earn self respect, and help our brothers in Christ.
But she, and other modesty advocates, actually say more than that.

According to them, when you read their words with a critical eye, my clothing does not cause lust--my body does. Just my revealed stomach--the main difference between a bikini and "modest" swimsuits--apparently causes lust. If a guy happens to notice my body before my personality, then he's lusting after me, and it's my fault for not covering up those curves. If my body can't be covered up to prevent lust, then my body is sinful.

I vehemently disagree.

My body is not sinful. My body cannot cause a man to lust. 

One of my favorite Bible verses is Genesis 1:27

So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.

How can my body be sinful when I am made in God's own image?

At this point, I can see the modesty advocates rushing to tell me I just don't understand. They're not saying my body is sinful; they're saying my God-given beauty can be twisted and made sinful by man. Don't I just want to be the more gracious Christian and avoid that by not wearing a bikini? Being modest isn't being ugly. I can wear a cute tankini or one-piece bathing suit and help my struggling brothers not to lust.

But it is not I who does not understand. The modesty advocates, in their rush to control women's bodies in the politest way possible, have forgotten that although women are all made in God's own image, we are not all identical.

My body is currently slender, with my collarbones sticking out and my ribs faintly outlined on my chest. Yet my unusually thin body has not lost all of its curves, with my hips, butt, stomach, and boobs still soft and rounded.

My favorite black and white Freya bikini is now well-known to any friends and fans of my anonymous identity. Explaining the comparative sizes of this bikini top and bottoms would not illustrate my point, however, since my Freya top is based on bra sizing, and relatively few people understand that very well.

My second-favorite bikini is a coral and white one bought at Target in June, a spontaneous gift from Beau for my birthday, when we realized our hotel had a pool.

On the pontoon with Beau, an afternoon away from his family, just the two of us.

The bikini bottoms are a size Small. The top is an Extra-Large.

When I was still in undergrad, I went bathing suit shopping with my mom, who was somewhat alarmed at my still-expanding chest. I found plenty of cute one-piece bathing suits and tankinis. I spent hours trying them on, to no avail. Either the bottom half fit, allowing my boobs to spill out on top from the too-tight fabric, or the top half fit, allowing the loose folds to flap around my body and reveal my lady bits to anyone watching. Finally my mom relented and bought me a halter bikini, the only kind that offers me any sort of coverage and support. At least, the only kind not sold for $100 that offers me any sort of coverage and support. 

My biggest problem with Modesty Culture is that it tells women like me that our bodies are sinful because they are feminine. You cannot look at me without knowing that I am a woman, unless I wear clothes that are much too big for me. I have curves. God gave me these curves. God blessed me with curves, just as She blesses all Her children with different features that make us all unique. 

My curves are not sinful. My body is not the problem here.

Modesty Culture is the problem.

"Modest" bathing suits are based on a skinny white woman's body. Women outside of that mold are automatically immodest if they wear swimwear that fits them.

If you wear this, you don't win the Modesty Game, but instead receive concern-trolling over your Oppression.

In response to the same bikini post, Abianne at Adipose Rex discusses bikinis and fat bodies.

The thing is, even if I do wear a one-piece suit, my body will still be immodest, inappropriately sexual. There isn’t a bathing suit that exists that will hide the curves of my body, the cleavage, the ass for days. There is no way to de-feminize me; the parts of my body that are read as female don’t disappear just because there’s a layer of fabric on them. It’s impossible to look at my body and not be aware of my shape, my womanhood. And yet, what Christian modesty culture teaches us is that when a woman’s body is too unruly to be hidden away, it’s a sin...  
Switch from a bikini to a one-piece suit and someone else will tell you to add shorts and a t-shirt. There is no modest enough because there is still visibly female
Is that what this amounts to? I look at the young woman in the one-piece suit in the Cake Post, and she’s pretty, of course, in the very white blonde young way that we read as “all-American,” but she’s also thin, small-chested, small-hipped. Cover her in fabric and, if you wanted to, you could see her as “woman” without thinking “sexual woman.” For women that are curvy, or fat, or Black or trans* or otherwise don’t fit this mold, the denial of our bodies and our genders is harder.

The original post also ignores the racial implications of Modesty Culture. Not only are women of color (WOC) more likely to have curvy bodies that can't be covered up, they have the extra difficulty of trying to conform to "modesty" against a history of being sexualized. What exactly can a WOC wear to the beach that will prevent men from noticing her "butt, upper thighs, or chest"? How exactly can she dress in such a way that counters a long history of sexualized non-white bodies? 
"Historically, White women, as a category, have been portrayed as examples of self-respect, self-control, and modesty -- even sexual purity -- but Black women were often (and still are) portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory." -Dr. Edward Rhymes

I obviously have a lot of issues with The Bikini Question, but the "skinny white girl" standard of modesty possibly bothers me the most. I've faced a lot of judgment for my clothing--and by extension, my body--over the years because I have boobs. This call for tankinis and one-pieces is no different. 
And yet I'm still one of the privileged ones.
I could afford my $100 bikini by Freya that offers good support and good coverage of my boobs. My body is not offensive to the male gaze. My skin color is not associated with promiscuity. 
To women who have been told that they they are the problem, that their bodies are sinful, that their mere existence is leading innocent Christian boys astray:
God made you in Her own image. Your body is beautiful because it is made in God's own image. Your body is not sinful. Your existence is a blessing.
Ironically, I want to end with the same closing as the offensive writer.
You are enough.


  1. I love this post. Sometimes the modesty posts make my blood boil. Sometimes I go around without a bra because I am small chested enough that there isn't really anything too support. Not because I want men gawking at my nipples when a slight breeze passes by, but because it is 100% more comfortable (for me) to be braless in the summer!

    1. Thank you! Yes, I've been frustrated all summer long by the modesty posts. Lots of banging my head against a virtual wall. And yet, when I mention women's comfort, some men seem to think it's selfish for us to be concerned about comfort when men might be tempted to lust! I just can't even...

  2. Thank you for those beautifully written post. I keep seeing these "modest" posts around Pinterest and Facebook, and I honestly find them insufferable. I cannot deal with people who act like it is the responsibility of the woman to make sure she doesn't "tempt" the man with her scandalous clothing! UGGHHH.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I've written responses in the comment threads of so many modesty posts. I was even banned from one of them, even though the other commenter with whom I was debating called me gracious and compassionate. So... go figure.

  3. I am with you on this. It shouldn't be our fault that men gawk at us. Last year our neighbors caught a man pleasuring himself while looking into my foolishly open bedroom window as I lay sleeping, and when people found out, their first question to me was immediately: "What were you wearing?" And when they saw the nightgown I wore then, "Oh, no wonder" and gave me judgmental looks. Like it was all completely my fault he acted that way. Hello! He was the one who invaded my privacy and I'm the one to blame?

    1. Um, what?! You're home! You should be able to wear what you want! Him being disgusting is totally not your fault.

  4. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but IT ISN'T. Our bodies aren't sinful. Our thoughts can be, sure, but that has nothing to do with bodies. UGH.

    1. Exactly. Our bodies can be used for sin, but they're not inherently sinful. This isn't a difficult concept!

  5. I love this post. I wear a Freya bikini top (LOVE them, especially for bigger "girls"), but I do wear a tank overtop - the ironic thing is I bet that I'd be less lust-inducing without it! (After five babies, this midriff is not worthy of daylight. LOL)

  6. Plenty of lusting, abuse and raping of women wearing burkhas/chadors.
    Apostle Paul wasn't referring to what square inches of skin are exposed or concealed. Rather, he wrote against ostentatiousness, the display of wealth.

  7. Aa a European, and an italian at that, may I say i have never quite grasped this "Christian modesty" thing in the USA. Go to Europe, go to a beach, and by Jove you will see grandmothers in (modest) two-piece bathing suits and 40-y.o. mothers of teenagers wearing very much the same style of bikini as their daughters! How can you claim to be "free world" when you are prisoners of your own, self-imposed morality jail ?


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