Every so often a blog post or article begins to make the rounds on social media that just drives me up a wall or fills me with rage. The latest is a blog post explaining why wearing a bikini is dehumanizing and leads to bad thoughts in other people. Let me make this absolutely clear: The only thing that makes a person see another person as an object is the person doing the looking. It doesn’t matter what I am wearing, if someone looks at me and reduces me to my parts or appearance, that’s all on the looker.
The blog post is entitled, “I Never Knew a Bikini Could Hide So Much.” The writer details an experience in which she was at the pool wearing a bikini and had an enlightening moment upon seeing a mother in a one-piece laughing with her child and husband. To the writer, this scene was in stark contrast to other women who wore bikinis and seemed to be caught in self-consciousness. For the author of this blog, this moment signaled a shift in how she dressed, preferring to cover up more thereafter.
I’m a big supporter of dressing how you want. The problem I have with the sentiment behind this blog post is the idea that you, the wearer of clothing, are in charge of what other people think about you. The writer says,
Whether the women walked confidently, or insecurely, or somewhere in between, one thing struck me about each of them. Not once in my observations that day had I asked myself “I wonder what is on her heart today” or “I wonder what her personality is like” or “I wonder what she dreams of doing some day.” Not once. All of my thoughts had been directed towards her swimsuit or her body.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go around looking at strangers and wonder what their dreams are. It’s just not something most people do. So to use the absence of such a thought as an excuse to demonize bikinis is plain silly. The author followed up with, “As a woman, that may just mean I am wondering where she got her suit or comparing my body to her body, but imagine what that is like for a man!”
Let me just take a moment to speak on behalf of men: Men aren’t born objectifying women–they’re taught to objectify women. Men aren’t incapable of seeing women as complete human beings, regardless of what women might be wearing. Men–regardless of what a woman might be wearing–are perfectly capable of thinking of women as more than mere sexual objects. To deny this is to call all men inherent rapists and lewd observers. I cannot and will not accept this claim.
The reality is, a bikini doesn’t turn a woman into an object. A person looking at a woman in a bikini turns her into an object.
I recently travelled to Italy and had an experience quite opposite to the writer of the blog post condemning bikinis. While on the beach I noticed most women wore bikinis if they wore any swimming suit at all. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes. And you know what? Everyone on that beach looked confidant and comfortable. Not a one was trying to cover up “flaws.” I on the other hand, was wearing an ill-fitting suit because of a long-lasting fear of being a “problem” for men. You see, I’m quite busty. It is nearly impossible to find a one-piece or tankini that fits as well as it covers. So I squeezed into a tankini top that didn’t fit my bust. But, hey! I was covered so no big deal, right? Wrong. I felt miserable every time I wore it. I felt self-conscious, probably because my motivations for wearing it were external instead of internal. But seeing all those happy, confident, bikini-clad women made me determined to lose the tankini and find a bikini that fit! And I did! And I love it!
Finding the swimming suit that works for you–whatever style that is–is what promotes self-confidence. Confidence doesn’t come from covering up because you feel obligated to or because you don’t think the poor men can handle it.
And let’s not forget that people are perfectly capable of objectifying women even if they’re covered from their necks to their toes. The author claims, “[Modesty] prevents lust, harmful comparisons, and insecurity…” This is a complete fallacy. If the number of inches on a bathing suit or hemline determined the amount of lust, rape and other sexual violence would not exist in places where women are completely covered up. If how much skin showing is what determines insecurity, insecurity would be a relatively new complaint that didn’t exist in Western cultures until arguably the 1920s when women’s clothing became much less restrictive. But rape does exist no matter the dress code. Harmful comparisons and insecurity is determined not by the inches of clothing, but by a culture that puts so much focus on what a woman wears and what she looks like. The blog post about which I’m writing, for example, is something that promotes insecurity. Anything that effectively says, “You’re more beautiful and valuable if you where X instead of Y,” creates insecurity. To the author’s credit, I think what she is mostly going for is a focus on inner beauty. But the way she went about it just doesn’t work.
Don’t mistake my purpose here as saying everyone should don bikinis. If you are more comfortable in a one-pice bathing suit, by all means wear it! But If, while you wear your one-pice, you look around at all the women wearing bikinis and judge them for it–even if by your reckoning it is merely concern for their welfare–you are part of the problem.
Personally, I hate once-piece bathing suits. I find them to be terribly uncomfortable and impractical. Two-pieces on the other hand, are more comfortable, fit better, and just look all around better on my body. But that’s just me. Women should be free to wear any kind of bathing suit they want without worrying someone is on the sidelines judging them. It’s 2015, can we be done with the body and clothing policing, please?
So, to women everywhere: If you want to wear a bikini, just wear the damn bikini.