I recently posted a very articulate video on the origin of the bikini and its less than desired result for empowering women. (Jessica Rey and the Evolution of the Bikini. http://youtu.be/WJVHRJbgLz8 ) The bikini’s history and the current status of billions of dollars in sales is astounding. Confronting. Worthy of consideration. And yet, I must confess, while I loved her thoughts and challenges—uhm, I hated her modest swimsuits. At least for me. Why? Because I hate tan lines.
It’s crazy, I know. Don’t judge me. Most of my friends have no issue with tan lines. But alas, I do. Joie de vivre. Right?
But tan lines or not, there remains this nagging issue of whether our girls are being told the truth about their exposure. And I’m not talking about sun screen.
Before I begin let’s clarify. I am not the bathing suit police. I have my own contradictions to wrestle, as you will soon see. Yet, here are some thoughts about the bikini’s affect on young women, and men.
I vividly remember being in Florida in my twenties. I was by myself, so no peer pressure, and I was there for one purpose, tanning. I was also in the best shape of my life. So my itsy, bitsy bikini, consisting of approximately four triangles and some string, was simply functional for me. Not tempting, not immoral, just functional. Until.
Until I went to the snack bar without putting on a cover up. I was suddenly conscious of eyes on me. A lot of eyes. Men’s eyes ravaged my body, and women’s eyes sneered in distaste. It wasn’t that I was so captivating, but that I was so BARE.
I had not seen myself the way I was now being seen—nearly naked.
It took me years of studying male-female reactions, a relationship with Jesus, and having daughters of my own to understand what happened that day. The short version? The female form carries a lot of power. It’s a God thing and a good thing. And it’s under attack.
As Ms. Rey stated, women have the power to be treated as objects or to the power to reveal their dignity. This is an all but lost notion among mothers as well as daughters. She also went on to explain that OUR choices affect men negatively, which causes a chain reaction of men viewing us negatively. The bikini is a big factor in this dance.
For some girls, bikinis start young. “They are just little girls, it doesn’t matter” I often hear moms say. Their logic is little girls have no breasts, no awareness of their future allure, so their bodies are in neutral. However, the reality is year after year they teach little girls that it is normal to be nearly naked in public. This normal produces a cluelessness about their personal power and a lack of knowledge of how to protect it when breasts and hips do arrive on the scene.
For some girls, moving into a bikini is a sign of maturity. For me as a preteen, the mark of becoming a woman was wearing a bikini and filling it out. As women floated past in their lycra underwear, my friends and I understood it to be a rite of passage. A next level. A mark of beauty.
What’s even more disturbing was the unspoken female agreement: fat women don’t wear bikinis. Thin women do. The problem was (and is), how thin do you have to be to be in a bikini? The following years for us as blossoming women were filled with striving and shame over wanting minimal tan lines but still needing to have the “right size” to wear a bikini. This thought lingers on.
Fast forward to some much needed maturity, (whew), some new perspectives on beauty, and the dawning revelation of the power of a woman’s body.
Over time I realized that the cute girl in the bikini was not just getting the admiration of her guy friends, she was also getting gawked by every male she passed. Eeww. She either didn’t know it, or fed off of the buzz of male attention. But I began to question, is this the sum total of her beauty? To have a guy consume her visually?
My last beach trip made me sick. The new ‘brazilian’ bikini bottom made its debut. So while the lovely woman posed casually with her friends, half of her arse hanging out of her suit, the bar full of men nearby were crudely discussing the need for additional Viagra pills.
Is this the empowered woman we are all working so hard for?
Who is the culprit? The men who treat her as a sex object? Or the woman for presenting herself as one?
This beauty things keeps rearing its ugly head (no pun intended). And it’s not a quick answer. With friends at the pool the other day we did a highly UN-scientific survey. We looked at several females in bikinis and noticed a striking difference in our reactions. From flat line to wow factor.
Fit mom in bikini running after two kids. No problem. Not much excitement.
Sort of fit sixty year old in modest bikini. Nada.
Overweight teenager in a bikini with lots of belly and thigh action. Not so much.
But the off-duty svelte lifeguard, bronzed and firm, flashing her tini-kini? Yep the whole audience, male, female, young and old watched her as she strolled by.
What is that? Brainwashing? Years of telling us what beauty is, or is not? Maybe. But it is Reality for sure.
So what the heck am I saying? Here comes the hard part for me personally. I don’t like how I view bikinis based on beauty. I hate it, in fact. The rules seem different depending age and stage of life. They seem more dangerous when the woman is using her body to say, “I am so available.”
When I go to the beach, surrounded by strangers, I find I have disqualified myself so I think I can wear whatever, within reason, as long as I am sitting down and not parading the shoreline. Yes I am beautiful, but I have no pressure, or desire, to gather attention. Great. Happy tanning for me.
What about my beautiful daughters? The developed one, and the one on the way?
Do I want a boy, man, male lusting after my daughters? No. (God help these men…)
I started my girls out in one pieces. And now, they wear one pieces by choice. I’m glad for that. They will have to navigate this as they get older. But for now, it seems “unnatural” for them to go out in public in less clothes than their underwear, which they rightly hide in behind closed doors. My daughters are more modest, and self- honoring that I was. I’m glad for that too.
Here is the crux of the issue. Our bodies are the temple of God. They are to bring HIM glory. Not a cheap thrill.
If a woman wants a man to take her seriously, maybe she should start with herself? Does she take herself seriously? Does she own and value the beauty she carries? Does she honor herself in a way that is not easy pickings?
Moms are we teaching this to our daughters?
Just because guys like to look, doesn’t mean they get a free peep show.
And what about the responsibility we have to our brothers of all ages? Do women understand how and why to honor them with what we wear?
It seems to me that while we are busy criticizing the men for being animals, we might want to see who is hanging the fresh meat in front of their faces…
Let’s help our daughters become more than bait.