The Big Swimsuit Question: A Roundup of Posts and Thoughts


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’s blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on May 30, 2013.

It’s summer time. Time for the big swimsuit question.

As a woman who used to swim in athletic shirts and an athletic top to ensure proper modesty, i know what the modesty teachings are. However, I don’t agree with them anymore.

I feel that modesty culture demeans and harms both men and women, promotes unhealthy thoughts, and operates based on stereotypes and misunderstandings.

I’m posting links to some posts on the subject, along with highlights, and my thoughts will follow.

There’s been this post about modesty and The Bikini Question making the rounds, and it feels very rape culturey. Defeating the Dragons explains how it promotes rape culture, as well as how futile it is for a women to try to dress in a way that certain men won’t objectify her.

But, this article, like every other article I’ve read on modesty, emphasizes that it a woman’s obligation to help protect men from our bodies. It’s our duty to make sure that we make it possible for men to forget that we’re a woman– which is, frankly, impossible. I don’t care how loose your clothes are– if you have T&A, there’s no getting rid of it, there’s no hiding it.

emily joy allison talks modesty and purity culture in her new post about How To Be a Lady:

LET’S GO AHEAD AND TIE A WOMAN’S CHARACTER DIRECTLY TO HER CLOTHING WHY DON’T WE. Yeah. That seems like a good idea. Also let’s shame women who’ve been disrespected or mistreated by men by making them think it must have been their fault somehow for wearing the “wrong” clothes and attracting the “wrong” kind of men. And to top it all off let’s pretend like Christian men do (and should) actually treat women better who “appropriately cover themselves.”

Another good post about the problems for both men and women inherent in modesty teachings: “Modesty, Body Policing, and Rape Culture: Connecting the Dots.” 

Shaney Irene has this post about Why The Modesty Survey was a Bad Idea (for the record, Shaney, I forgive you.  i’m thankful that you are writing against it now.)

In offering a platform to over 1600 guys, many of whom shouldn’t have been given it, we lent legitimacy to some very dangerous ideas.

Many guys admitted to losing respect for girls who didn’t live up to their ideas of modesty, feeling “disgusted” or “angered” by these same girls, and even going so far as to say, “…she loses her right to ask guys to stop looking at her like something to be had…you are asking to have guys stare at you.” The word “cause” in relation to guys’ lust also made a frequent appearance.

and now for my thoughts:

I feel like the biggest problem with the modesty culture is the confusion between lust and attraction. i never once have heard anyone make a distinction. It’s as though it’s a sin for a man to notice a woman is attractive.

Look, people. i’m visual. And the dude who plays Thor is attractive. I noticed. That’s not cheating on my husband. that’s not me wanting to rape the actor. That’s just me, noticing a very attractive guy is attractive. I’ve seen men that were so attractive, it makes me blush. For real. It doesn’t mean i’m lusting. I am not fantasizing. I wouldn’t ‘do’ anything with him.

But there’s nothing wrong with me or the guy, if i notice he’s attractive. If I start having sexual fantasies, that’d be objectifying and mentally unhealthy.

Here’s a big secret: women can be visual, too. I’m more visually oriented than Luke. And there are a lot of guys objectively more attractive (and by that I mean, with really ripped abs) than him. it’s okay. i still find him breathtakingly handsome and i love him more than anybody. He’s the only dude i intend to ever [expletive deleted] with. But I’m gonna notice Batman’s biceps. And it is okay. And anything beyond that is my responsibility to deal with.

The flipside of that is, if a guy sees me in a bikini and notices i’m attractive, or more likely, notices i am very curvy, there is nothing wrong with that. I am very curvy. No suit is gonna hide that.
If he ogles me – and I have been ogled while dressed modestly before and my young and frightened response was to dress rather more frumpily and blame it on my ‘accidental immodesty’ – that is all on him. It’s not my job to try my hardest to dress in such a way that people will treat me with respect; and as noted in many of the blogs above, it does not work; oglers are pretty much oglers. As far as keeping a man from sinning – him noticing I am a woman isn’t going to ‘make’ him sin.

And if a woman judges me as a slut because i’m a curvy woman in a bikini, that’s all on her too.

So much for my opinions on modesty culture in general, now for the chocolate cake analogy in the post, which many people think is wonderful. I found it a problematic analogy. It made me angry that a woman enjoying herself at the beach – happening to bare a midriff rather than not (perhaps because she can’t find a well fitting one piece or tankini, perhaps because she likes how she looks, who knows) is considered the same as following a dieter around with something tempting.

I am a person, dressing for me. It would be more like if i ate a cake at a cafe and you walked up and shoved your face into it and ate it all up, and blamed me for you stealing it, because i should be tempting you with my cake in public.

Unless I am deliberately and provocatively and obviously flirting with someone, he has no reason to think my clothing is an invitation to him. (and even then he still wouldn’t have any right to touch me without a clear verbal invitation or permission).

I am planning to go to the lake this summer, and i will be wearing my bikini. partially in protest, but mostly because it’s flattering, comfortable, stays in place better than any suit i have, and will allow my body to get some sun, and there’s really no reason for me not to, if i’m comfortable in it.

Dianna Anderson is joining the bikini club too. (For the record, i have another suit i’ll be wearing when we go to the in-laws to swim, out of courtesy to their beliefs and because i would be the only one in a bikini, and i’m not comfortable with that.)

Other posts about modesty:

• Sarah over the Moon wrote a post about modesty today too, responding to another post about modesty from a bit of a different angle than the first, but the points about the problems and inequity of translating clothing into ‘messages’ still stand. worth a read

• Here’s a post from one of my favorite bloggers, Libby Anne, about the problematic chocolate cake analogy, focusing on chocolate cake’s inability to consent, and the lack of clarity as to what the anologue to eating the cake is: attraction? Lust? Rape?

• Bookworm Beauty, “The Only Thing My Double D’s Ever Got Me Was Kicked Out of Church”

• Adipose Rex, “Women Aren’t Cake, Part 2: The Cake Is a Lie”

• Suzannah Paul, “On Objectification (Or: How People Aren’t Objects No Matter What They Wear)”

Comment section: am I missing any good posts in my links? did you read the bikini article? do you have a cute new swimsuit you’re excited to wear? i got a polka dotted tankini for everydays, and a black bikini, with full cups and gathers in the fabric, for the lake.

16 thoughts on “The Big Swimsuit Question: A Roundup of Posts and Thoughts

  1. Coco Mama June 28, 2013 / 11:55 am

    You are free to do what you want, but I do think people should dress modestly. I guess that is open to many interpretations. For me it is not about a rape culture or about men having no ability to control themselves. It is what I choose to do as a believer.


    • lanamhobbs June 28, 2013 / 1:34 pm

      I believe that in the bible, modesty is more about attitude and not seeking attention than about covering up certain parts of the body – in my experience covering up parts of the body because of men’s likely reactions, but everyone is free to do as they wish, i just think it is wrong to teach that women should dress for men, and it’s certainly wrong for men or women to judge women as sluts because they don’t fit their level of modesty.


    • Holly June 28, 2013 / 1:39 pm

      “It is what I choose to do as a believer.”
      “…but I do think people should dress modestly”

      Which is it because it can’t be both at the same time.


    • lanamhobbs June 28, 2013 / 1:53 pm

      i should add, i am no longer a believer, but I came to many of the same things i believe now while i still believed in God and tried to honor him. I simply came to believe he didn’t care what i wore.


  2. DoaHF June 29, 2013 / 5:45 pm

    I wrote about it on my blog, mostly taken from the Bookworm Beauty post.


      • lanamhobbs June 29, 2013 / 8:09 pm

        Oh you’re post made me laugh! People should be required to talk about modesty like that all the time ( can you imagine?) and then I suppose maybe they’d finally stop talking about it. (Then again, if I picture the conversaton in which my dad told me old men would be trying to look at my breasts if I wore sleeveless and then mentally add in stuff about erections… Not so funny anymore. I’d have worn a burka….)


  3. Kathy Alongi November 21, 2013 / 10:10 pm

    Surely you realize that we as women may be visually oriented, even perhaps excited, yet there is a big difference between the mostly estrogenic hormones of a woman, and the testosterone of most men! Sure you have your freedom, even to make your statement in protest; but one day we will each stand before our maker. We are not your judge ..He will be. He will look on your heart, which displays itself in outward actions. I am glad you are sensitive to your family’s sensitivities in this area ..I found the Bikini Question blog a very sincere attempt to be a helper to our brothers ..not encouraging a rape attitude in Any Way! Please be careful that you do not color everything you read with your own sensitivities in this area. While it does Not Give License to guys to dress provocatively (I liked the way you put it, not unless you give them permission) it certainly does still behoove women to take Some Responsibility in how men view her in light of her boldly showing it off ..this being in Love, not duty or rules. I also liked the Bikini Q caring for her brothers. This certainly doesn’t stop when one is married; I felt it even more important in our society to take care to not advertise my body (& there is precious Little to advertise on This bod!) when around other men, married or not once I became attached to my husband. Sexual promiscuity is rampant in our culture. We as women can and should do our best to not add fuel to any fires already burning. Her thoughts on it being a sacrifice were also well stated; perhaps you would do well to meditate on pleasing Jesus and less on your own assurances, however right or wrong they may be.


    • Lindsay September 24, 2015 / 9:09 pm

      I feel like you didn’t read the article- teaching men that women are responsible for there fantasies is adding to rape culture plain and simple! Jesus never did this- when Mary came and washed his feet, did he acuse her of turning him on by wiping oil and her hair all over his feet- not at all, he respected her regardless even tho everyone else in the room wanted her to stop! Men are not God and if you teach them what a women wears matters then they not only beleive what a woman wears matters but that she deserves more or less respect based on what she wears rather then for being simply human


  4. Kallie Culver July 1, 2014 / 6:10 pm

    Here is another good article on modesty and the damaging message it can send. by Rachel Held Evans. Interestingly enough, it is in response to the the Q Talk given by the newer vintage modest swimsuit designer Jessica Rey. (Side note, but pretty sure the swimsuit in the chocolate cake modesty article is one of her designs…) I would love to hear some thoughts on a response to Jessica Rey’s talk too. She talks a lot about how modesty shouldn’t be about hiding, but that its more about valuing your own dignity. The problem I have with that thought is that it again bases worth and personal dignity on what a person is wearing, or in this case not wearing enough of— when a person’s worth and dignity should be found in the mere fact that they are a human being, and thus worth respect. I too wore modest swim attire for years and it did nothing to hinder me receiving the treatment I was working so hard to avoid. I write a little about that here…


  5. gunznrosez July 1, 2014 / 6:50 pm

    I find this crap so incredibly annoying, as it seems articles similar to it keep popping up all over the blogosphere. Here’s the thing about modest dressing within a Christian context: it’s not about dressing with only yourself in mind. And it’s not about dressing with only men in mind. I don’t know about you, but I rarely if ever think “Ohmygosh what will my male friends/family/strangers say if I wear this?!” when picking out my clothes.

    But modest dressing within a Christian context IS about dressing for Christ. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 reminds us that our bodies are temples and do not belong to us; and 1 Tim. 2:9-10 asks that women dress themselves in respectable apparel. I think this alone is evidence enough against wearing clothing that shows everything but one’s vagina and areolas; but in 1 Cor. 8:9-13 we are called not to cause our weaker brother to stumble. So say, perhaps, I feel comfortable wearing revealing clothing out in public. But as I go about my day maybe there is a brother behind the retail store counter who’s been struggling with sexual sin, and maybe I cause him to stumble. Or maybe there’s a sister who was once a lesbian, and maybe I cause her to stumble. No, I didn’t MAKE them sin. But I didn’t make it any easier for them not to. As Christians, we are supposed to carry each other’s burdens, not pile more on. And when I read articles like this I just do not sense a very Christlike attitude. Instead I sense an extremely selfish, me-first attitude. “I should be able to dress how *I* want. I only dress for *me*.” But here’s the thing: when you become a Christian, you give up that right. You give up the right to do what YOU want. And part of that includes dressing how YOU want, whether you are male or female. If you are an atheist, fine, whatever – you have the right to do what you want at least for a time. But if you’re claiming to be a Christian, then you don’t have that right – you gave it up a long time ago when Christ called you to be His.


    • larissaann September 4, 2014 / 8:30 pm

      You do not give up the right to do what you want when you become a Christian. As a human being you have a right to do what you want. We are not machines. We are living people. The thing that makes us different from being a machine is free will, choice. If you are a Christian yourself, do you believe that God wants robots doing exactly what he says they should do? Or do you believe that God wants a Christian to of their own free choice do something because they want to? You sound like a rather unhappy person.


  6. heidi0523 July 2, 2014 / 8:15 am

    I think you have the most responses that I have ever seen! \

    I am one that thinks swim wear should be reasonably modest. I don’t think I would walk around in my bra and undies so I will not on a beach and will don’t let my girls either.

    Yet, I do love your points. I am a homeschool mom that was public schooled as a kid. My family were not believers, but my parents wanted me to be reasonable modest too. I because a Christian at 14 and went to strict churches – with rules like you speak of. I was a youth director at 2 liberal churches. So I do have many angels on this now.

    You said people do not differentiate between lust and looking and that is bad. I do. I also talk about in in my home school classes I teach, Sunday school, with my kids and any time the subject comes up. There is just simply nothing wrong with what I call creation appreciation. God make a lot of beautiful people. And to deny that God made cute boys and hot women is just silly to me. But there is a difference between undressing someone in your head and thinking “Wow they are hot!”

    My girls wear one pieces or tanknis that touch. I prefer tankinis because they are easier to go the the restroom in and as you mentioned you can get a much better fit. My oldest is tall and one pieces that go up the butt crack is not comfy or attractive:-) One early summer, my daughter was invited to a birthday party where the kids would be running around in sprinklers. We could only find the tanki and it did not touch. But it was all we had. You can imagine the glared I got:-) I explained and the host said “And that’s why you get one pieces” It was all I could do to ask if she would rather see the butt more exposed then an inch of tummy. I just kind of looked at her:-/

    We had a similar situation this summer. The tankini showed about 2 inches of tummy. My 12 year old was trying to hide. I told her to stand up proud, that she had an awesome figure and did not need to worry about 2 inches of her great abs showing.

    I think there needs to be some kind of balance. I don’t want my 2 sons to think they can not control their thoughts and that they are monsters ready to happen at the sight of a bikini. I don’t want my girls to not love and appreciate the wonderful bodies they have. My kids are active and have great figures. They should enjoy being young and strong.

    It is about understanding and respect.


  7. Nick C August 18, 2014 / 2:24 pm

    Let me start out by emphasizing that a woman never asks to be sexually assaulted, I would never think that. But ladies, think about what you are doing when you wear immodest clothing. You may be causing a man to stumble and to lust after you. You should leave “something to the imagination.”

    I have seen all three of those points made in other blogs, sometimes in the same post by the same blogger.

    OK, let’s see, a woman never asked to be sexually assaulted, but she can ask to be lusted after. If imagining is the same as doing (and that point is also made) then it is makes no difference, the woman is still responsible for the actions of another, based solely on what she is wearing.

    “You should leave something to the imagination.” What exactly? and what exactly are you imagining? Take that to its logical extension. (BTW ‘thefulltimegirl’ would not post my challenge to other posters on her blog as to where they would take that logical extension.)

    Many of the arguments frequently made are self-contradictory at best and sublimely contribute to victim blaming.


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