I write to protest the recent decision by the city of Cannes in Southern France to outlaw full-body swimwear. My reasons involve both health and feminism, though not the feminist line that one is currently reading, but because I maintain that this full-body swimwear is incredibly liberating and long overdue.
I have had four surgeries for Basel cell skin cancer and after my first surgery started to treat sunshine as if it was secondhand smoke – a carcinogen lying in wait for me. I not only upped my SPF, but started wearing full body suits from both Solumbra and Stingray, an Australian company. This was 16 years ago, before the rash guard, when the only full-body covering was a wet-suit. I looked like a professional kayaker or diver in the wrong place. I looked odd, I knew, and when I was on the beach in Italy, I quickly learned the phrase “contro il sole” – against the sun – when the matronly women on the beach gestured and asked.
What I discovered, though, was that walking around with my thighs covered was tremendously liberating -- I moved with ease, bent over, sat in the sand with my legs spread, frolicked as I hadn’t when worried that my suit would ride up, would expose my bum, gap at the breasts. Now there was no gesture or movement that would compromise my privacy. So I was free
from the carcinogen and free from exposure.
And then it dawned on me – rather than being a symbol of Western freedom, the bikini and even one-piece suit was, in fact, evidence of yet another double standard. Remember the Speedo? A couple of men looked good in them, most did not and so men invented the board short. Long in the leg and not revealing, baggy enough to allow unencumbered and private movement, a garment that men can wear from the water to the snack bar without hesitation. And yet here women are in what amounts to clothing that is smaller and more revealing than most underwear, movement restricting, designed for the entertainment of men rather than the freedom of movement of women, a suit that demands a sarape or kaftan before hitting the restaurant. Furthermore, think of all of the intense anxiety that bathing suit season causes among women. The diet and exercise. The bikini wax! Think of all of the bigger women who simply write off the water altogether because of the tyranny of the bathing suit.
And even the most svelte, beautiful and highly-waxed woman reaches an age where this issue presents itself: at some point you have spider web veins on your legs, cellulite on your thighs, stretch marks across your belly and a fervent desire to protect your cleavage from more wrinkles. And yet all we are offered are little skirts that give you about two inches more of privacy.
These days there are more rash guards (dreadful name that reveals its origins in the surfing community and is begging for a rebranding) and boy-leg suits (note the subtext that these styles are labeled for boys) but we have a long way to go. I believe in this so fervently that I investigated building a business around modifying the plain, kayaker-style suits into something more varied and fun. Instead, when I read this article my first reaction was to think that now I wouldn’t just look odd, I could actually be attacked or fined on the beach for my refusal to look like Beach Barbie.
Here are some locations for attractive and liberating, full- and nearly-full-body swimwear:
#burkini, #bikini, #feminism, #fashion, #beachwear, #swimwear, #skin cancer, #Cannes, #Solumbra, #Stingray, #full-body swimwear, #rash guards, #JessWells