Recently I received this question on my Christian body image blog “Compared to Who?” on Christian women and bikinis. Thankfully, the reader gave me permission to share it (and my answer–expanded for this post) with you. No matter where you stand on the topic, I hope you’ll take a second to check it out!
Your writings have been a huge encouragement to me, thank you for your service! This summer the issue of modesty has come up for me. I was the only one in a two piece at the 4th of July while the other ladies were wearing tshirts and shorts. My husband wants me to wear something like they were wearing. I feel that not all bikinis are created equally and feel that mine is as covering as they come. I struggle because less fabric on a bathing suit is much more practical. I am really only exploring this because my husband asked me to. I love Jesus, this one is tough for me! Your thoughts, sister?
In Him –
Bikinis!!! Ahhh . . . where to begin?
Let me start with my own personal bikini history.
You wouldn’t have caught me dead in one before age 23. I battled my weight during that time and didn’t feel like I had a “bikini body.” Likely, I would have told you I being modest. But that would have been a lie. I was wearing the old one piece to hide a body of which I was ashamed. Secretly, I longed to rock a skimpy string variety.
I started working out with gusto sometime before I turned 25 and that changed my shape quite a bit. I wanted to show off my body, though I still didn’t really like it. Bikinis brought more balance to my pear shape and I wanted to look as good as possible. Drowning deep in my body image issues during that time, I associated my value with how I looked in that swimsuit. (I see now how warped that was, but that was the level of my depravity.)
I remember a few months before our wedding, going to the pool with my then-fiancé. I threw an internal fit about the fact that he didn’t say I looked good in my little brown Victoria’s Secret swimsuit. Within the course of 30 minutes of sitting poolside, I decided that he likely wanted to call off our wedding because he thought I was so ugly in a bathing suit, he just didn’t have the nerve to tell me. He thought I was fat. He wanted me to be thinner. He didn’t want to marry me anymore . . .The thoughts barraged my brain like cereal pouring into the bowl. He had no idea the internal war that was waging and when I finally exploded with something like, “We can’t possibly get married because you don’t think I look good in a swimsuit!” He was caught off guard . . . to say the least.
Yes, I’m a little surprised he still married me after that act of lunacy.
I used that little two piece suit to affirm that I was physically good enough.
I wanted my bikini to bring attention and glory, not to God, but to me. My body image was my idol and my bikini helped me worship.
I wanted others to worship too. No, not literally bow down. That’d be silly. But, I hoped people would think I was hot. I wanted to capture the interest of men and the envy of women. (I’m definitely not proud of this, but it’s true.)
After I had a baby, my body changed. So, I just bought bigger bikinis with better lifting and tucking power. I wasn’t ready to give up, yet. I needed the physical affirmation wearing one brought me.
Then I had a daughter.
She received the sweetest little bikini as a baby gift and, within five minutes, my perspective on the issue shifted. I didn’t want my baby to wear that miniaturized adult woman swimsuit! She didn’t need to be sexy at six months old. Soon I realized that I didn’t need to be sexy (at least not in public) at 33 years old either.
The Holy Spirit started to convict me on my swimwear choices and motivation. How could I allow my daughter to wear bikinis as a pre-pubescent and then, when her body developed, tell her that she’d need to switch to something more modest? And, what kind of authority would I have to enforce a “no bikini” rule if all she ever knew was a mom who wore little bitty swimsuits?
I flashed back to a conversation I had with a friend in high school. She told me that she didn’t mind hanging out in her bra and underwear around another friend’s brother because it was “just like a bikini.” Even at fifteen, something inside me bristled at the appropriateness of this. Now, I had the responsibility to make sure my daughter wouldn’t follow that same logic. Ever.
At that point, I decided to stop. Bikinis and I were finished. I got rid of them. (Well, all except one that I wore in our fenced in backyard, all by myself, to keep my stomach from turning snowball white. Eventually I gave it up too.)
Does the Bible tell us that showing your navel is sinful? I don’t believe I’ve seen that specific verse. I can’t make a hard and fast rule that says wearing a bikini is wrong for every woman. A very pregnant friend recently sported a bikini on a 100-degree Texas day because she was uncomfortable in anything else. Having worn my fair share of maternity one pieces that have no less than seven layers of thick lycra over your already hot belly, I could ‘amen’ her decision.
If you have a private pool in your backyard and want a tan abdomen is that sinful? That’s hard to judge, too . . .
It’s also difficult to say, empirically, “only one piece bathing suits are good.” When, in truth, there are a lot of one piece suits that are a whole lot skimpier than some bikinis.
If we want to talk modesty–we must focus more on our hearts than our exposed navels.Now, don’t hear me wrong, what we are doing in our hearts usually comes out in what clothing choices we make. The two are related. But, the latter rarely dictates the former.
Why are you choosing to wear that swimsuit? That’s the question you need to ask and honestly answer in your heart.
Is it to prove something about your value? Is it to draw attention to yourself? Or, is it to find affirmation that you look good enough? Did you make your profile picture you in a bikini because you want affirmation of your physical beauty? If you have even a hint of a “yes” answer to any of these questions, than perhaps you need to make a change.
There’s also some interesting data out there about bikinis and what happens in the minds of those who observe them. If you’ve never watched Jessica Rey’s Q talk called “The Evolution of the Swimsuit” you should really check it out. This blog post recently caught my attention and offers another beautiful perspective.
As believers we are called to make informed and thoughtful decisions. This is wisdom, no matter what the issue.
Should a Christian woman wear a bikini? This boils down to three decision points.
Decision Point One: Your Motivation
What is your motivation behind your swimwear choice? Where is your heart as you consider it? Are you looking to bring glory to yourself or just be comfortable at the pool? If you are trying to win the hottest woman out there contest, then that’s a modesty issue. It sounds to me like you are just trying to be comfortable and, in that case, if you don’t feel personal conviction in that arena you aren’t, necessarily, doing anything “wrong.”
(I feel like many women I meet have never really thought through their swimsuit choice and aren’t necessarily trying to be a hot-body-show-off, they’ve just never stopped to think about their selection. Wisdom and maturity often chase, and then change, these women over time. And, they need grace through the process.)
Decision Point Two: Your Other Half
As a married woman, you have a responsibility to respect your husband. If he feels like he’d rather you wear something more modest, than maybe explore with him why. Does he feel like other men will find you “hot” in your swimsuit and he doesn’t like that? Or, is he feeling pressure from the groups you are in to meet some–not necessarily biblical–but imposed standard of dress? Have a heart to heart conversation and ask him why? As you husband, he does have a right to speak into your decision. Pray before the conversation and ask the Holy Spirit to soften both of your hearts so you can really hear each other and understand each other’s point of view.
Decision Point Three: The Other Women
Then there’s the issue of the other women. . . Ahhh, women can be so complicated!
You don’t specify as to whether or not this group of friends is from church, your neighbors, or coworkers, but it would be interesting to know why all of the women are choosing to wear t-shirts and shorts to the pool instead of swimwear. Is it that they don’t want to wear a swimsuit in public because they are obsessing over their body image? If so, perhaps they need someone to show some courage in this arena and be comfortable at the pool. Or, is it because they genuinely want to be modest and don’t feel comfortable wearing less than that in mixed company? Covering your body out of embarrassment and out of modesty are truly two different things.
As Christian women we are free in Christ Jesus to dress according to our own convictions. That word–’convictions’–assumes that we are actually listening for the Holy Spirit’s voice. To say that we “aren’t convicted” we must first sincerely pray and seek God on an issue and then know we have clearance. Not praying about it, not asking Him, does not equate to “not being convicted.”
Along with liberty always comes responsibility. Sometimes that responsibility requires us to give up some of that freedom. If I know I would make my friends (or husband) uncomfortable by showing up in a two piece bathing suit, I should, likely, lay down my own desires and wear something different. “Just please yourself” And, “Do what you want!”–these are not the mantras of the Christ-follower who has surrendered her life to a higher calling. Your body is a part of that calling. It’s not an ornament for your glory, it’s an offering to His.
Thanks again for your question, A. I pray that the God will give you wisdom and clarity as you seek his direction in this area. You’ll never go wrong seeking Him first.
Your Sister in Christ,