Burkini beach

Burkini beach banThe New York Times has called it ‘farcical’.

The Guardian has suggested there are many good reasons to wear the ‘wet suit with a hood’, and not just to annoy the French.

In Rio, burkini-clad athletes competed alongside others in skimpy bathing suits.

As our long, hot summer continues, the ban on the burkini by the mayors of several French towns has me hot under the collar. And this photo of police in Nice forcing a woman to remove her cover has me in a cold sweat.

What’s all the fuss about the burkini in France?

It’s about fear.

Fear of losing our national identity. An identity that has more to do with the freedom of topless sunbathing than it does with religion.

It’s about Islamophobia, another form of fear. Fear of terror attacks by those purporting to defend Islam, even while we understand that ISIS has nothing to do with Muslims.

It’s about the secular state, which is highly valued in France despite the fact that we march to the Christian calendar. It’s about fear of foreign ways and wanting to feel ‘chez nous’.

It’s about politics, plain and simple. In other words, when French prime minister Manuel Valls says he understands the mayors of several towns who have banned the burkini, it’s a smoke screen. It’s fear mongering, and it’s keeping the otherwise vocal French quiet.

To be fair, the French have always been somewhat hysterical about public swimming pools. Men: do not attempt to enter a public pool in France wearing swimming trunks or longer shorts. ‘Le caleçon’ is traditionally forbidden in pools here for so-called reasons of hygiene. The only acceptable swimwear for men in France is the ‘slip de bain’ aka the noodle bender.

So by extension, I can accept that, by the same logic, the burkini might be forbidden in public swimming pools. But on the beach? Alors là, non! It is just ridiculous. What does it mean for those who wear wet suits, people with sun allergies or those who are just plain shy? Can you imagine these cops asking a nun to remove her habit?

While I disagree with the fundamental principles that lead these women to cover their bodies, I will fight to the death for their right to do it. However misguidedly, and for whatever reason, religious or otherwise. The way we choose to dress is an essential right and freedom that should not be dictated by any government.

I love the fact that the French ban has sparked sales of the burkini. It is an innovative piece of clothing design by an Australian-Lebanese woman, one that enables an otherwise-excluded segment of the population to enjoy the pleasures of swimming. In her own words, it is meant to liberate women, not enslave them.

If weren’t so damned hot, I’d probably wear a burkini myself out of solidarity. I’m a shit disturber at heart, especially when I believe that something is full of it.

And the French, for all their dislike of political correctness and respect for private life, are just plain full of it on this one.

Et toi? What do you think about the burkini?


  1. M. L. Kappa · August 25, 2016

    I think that the world is getting crazier by the minute. We go from one extreme to the other, and not only in matters of dress.

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      Agree. And if there’s one thing I fear, it’s extremism.

      • M. L. Kappa · August 25, 2016

        Me too. Fanatics are scary…

  2. Fear leads people to do the most illogical things and yes, there are inconsistencies and impracticalities galore in this decision. On a less controversial note, when we arrived in France, my children wore their ‘rash vests’ (for sun protection) to swim in. They caused much confusion. Sunsmartness, as a concept, had not entered the French vernacular. Many thought that they were worn to protect against insect bites …

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      I can just imagine the reaction! When it comes to healthy behaviours, attitudes are slow to change in France. As for the burkini, it will continue to be controversial even if the courts rule against it on human rights grounds (which I’m hoping for!).

  3. francetaste · August 25, 2016

    I wear a long-sleeve, high-neck mega-SPF rash guard for the sun. I find repugnant the idea of women covering up because their existence is too much for men. The men should get a grip. But I agree that people should be able to wear what they want at the beach.

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      It also makes me uncomfortable to see women hiding their bodies. However, we would probably all benefit from wearing a burkini (or at least see a drop in skin cancers).

  4. davidprosser · August 25, 2016

    Women in the UK can wear bathing caps in pools to prevent the chlorine affecting any dye in their hair or they can wear it to go swimming at the beach (though less than stylish these days). Both men and women can wear hats to shelter them from the heat and the sunlight. None of these are worse than the burkini which leaves the face free for recognition purposes. The current attitude is just an anti-Islam ,measure that breaches a personal freedom.
    I agree with the ban on wearing a burka outside or anything else which obscures the face when the fear is of just who may be under the mask and when terrorists may try to escape disguised as a woman. But, to hit out at the average Muslim woman for a clothing choice which doesn’t offend is irrational.
    I hope the day will come when the burka is no longer traditional and Muslim women will be able to choose their own mode of dress which is fine unless the face is obscured in a country where facial recognition is normal practise.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      As always we are fully aligned, David! Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You remind me that when I was a child, we were forced to wear bathing caps in swimming pools – and how I hated them! Big bises back at you! xo

    • gardengastronome · August 25, 2016

      Is this your way of telling us that you have always wanted a flowery rubber swimming hat? 🙂

  5. zipfslaw1 · August 25, 2016

    I had a long conversation about this with a French woman this afternoon. Her take on it is very much informed by her profession, which is education. Her view: I’m Catholic. I can’t wear a large cross to work. I can’t wear a t-shirt that says “I love Jesus” to work. Why would a Muslim woman be allowed to wear hijab? Note that she is talking here about work, not about the beach. Note also that she sees it as totally fine that she’s not allowed to wear a large cross to work, or a t-shirt that says “I love Jesus”–she’s a firm believer in the French principle of laïcité, and she understands why that principle exists. The work-related aspect of this, as opposed to the beachwear nature of the burkini, makes it more relevant to the conversation, not less–it helps us see how complex this situation is in France. From her perspective, it’s hard to see how it’s Islamophobic to not allow the burkini when Orthodox Jewish women would like to be wearing it, too, and they’re not allowed to, either. Should police be forcing a woman to undress on the beach, regardless of what she’s wearing? Of course not.

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      I’ve had many similar conversations with French people over the years, some of whom are also teachers and civil servants. I have to accept that this is their truth, but it is such a different point of view from my own that it is hard for me to accept. I do not support the French law against ‘ostentatious signs of religious belief’. I also don’t believe it can be equitably enforced in a country with a Christian heritage that celebrates Christmas and Easter, where statues of Madonnas and crosses are everywhere. Separation of church and state is important, of course, but the French too often hide xenophobic attitudes behind their secular state (la laïcité).

      I am not a believer in any religion (and dislike labels like ‘humanism’ even though that probably best describes my belief system). But I do believe in plurality, and the French have trouble with this concept.

      What seems even sadder to me, is that the whole nonsensical Burkini issue is alienating French Muslims who until now felt fully integrated in this country. One fellow was interviewed on the radio saying, “A few weeks ago (after the Nice attack) we all felt 100% French and nothing else. Now we feel like we are part of a community that is not welcome.”

  6. coteetcampagne · August 25, 2016

    I understand that the police were not insisting she undress, but that she chose to remove a layer and had a bathing suit underneath. I can’t say and we’ll probably never know.
    I’m with FT though in that we should all be able to make a choice as to what we wear, providing it is not a case of hiding our identity in inappropriate circumstances and that the choice to dress in a certain way is just that, a choice.

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      Agree. It would be different if identity were concealed by a full burka in a public place. It’s all about accepting cultural differences, but with respect and sensitivity for others.

  7. Lisa @ cheergerm · August 25, 2016

    I fear fanaticism as well, in whatever form it takes. Crazy times.

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      Yes, and it’s ironic that people respond to one form of fanaticism with another! 😉

  8. gardengastronome · August 25, 2016

    Unfortunately, I think you’re right: it’s about fear, and those are the sorts of things that lead to persecution. I love most of the decisions the French make, such as downing tools to support workers rights and so forth, but I find these decisions a bit bewildering. I do understand the authorities wanting to act in a timely fashion to calm the population, and offer some type of reassurance, but this just seems to be an over-reaction. I understand why they banned niqab and burka, as veils that cover the face entirely could conceal anyone, but I just don’t understand what it is the authorities are trying to achieve by banning the burkini, are they worried that some weapons will be able to be concealed within the same?

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      I think it’s less about fear of concealed weapons than standing up and saying, ‘This is our country, and we believe in your right (read: duty) to expose your body. You will not bring your extremism here.’ The fear is that if there are too many people in burkinis, the women in itsy bitsy teenie weenie bikinis will be made to feel like outsiders. I’m not defending this view, but I do think that is the underlying fear.

      • gardengastronome · August 25, 2016

        Hmm, I suppose I can see that argument: makes more sense now, thank you. Only time will tell if that has a positive or negative impact. I worry that this will only increase extremist incidents :/

      • MELewis · August 25, 2016

        Alas I fear those fears are justified…

  9. Suzanne et Pierre · August 25, 2016

    I don’t know what to think of the French anymore…at least, a portion of the population as I can’t believe that everyone in France is supporting this ban of burkini on the beaches. I fear that the Catholic extremists are getting too much heard these days and that it is distorting the perception of everything. Extremists in all religions are a problem and the Catholic ones are as bad as the Islamist ones…I do hope the Conseil d’Etat will come to its senses and make the right decision.

    • Suzanne et Pierre · August 25, 2016

      Oh, and it was reported in Le Monde that the Canadian Prime Minister has said that there will be no law to ban burkinis from beaches in Canada in response to Quebec who wanted to. What Le Monde failed to report is that it was one deputy from a small party who was asking for it not the entire province…Le Monde made it sound like Quebec was on side with France in wanting to ban burkini when it isn’t even an issue here. Interesting how news can be distorted when all of the details aren’t reported properly.

      • MELewis · August 25, 2016

        Not surprised by Trudeau’s position as it fits with Canada’s tolerant approach towards welcoming those of all races and religions. I think that growing up in multicultural Canada explains a lot of my fear of French single-mindedness…Le Monde was probably guilty of assuming that all French-speakers think alike. (And the journalists should’ve done their research!)

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      I’m with you, Suzanne. Hoping the administrative council will bring the country to its senses! As an optimistic sign, there are a few more divergent views this time around (as compared to the hysteria around those last year who were shamed for saying they were not ‘Charlie’…). Fingers crossed!

  10. eyelean · August 25, 2016

    This whole thing infuriates me. I don’t understand how people can be so stupid as to not understand that forcing women to show their skin is just as awful as forcing them to cover it up?? If I lived in Cannes (and it weren’t so freaking hot out) I’d be tempted to wear one just to piss people off.

    Not to mention, it’s really quite a dangerous time to be passing such stupid Muslim-targeting laws. Targeting Muslims only fuels the ISIS recruitment fire. (which is something non-Trump-supporting Americans have been saying for months!!)

    • MELewis · August 25, 2016

      It does rather seem to be fanning the flames as it were. Most people just want to live their lives and be in peace. Targeting any form of religion is unnecessary – and plays right into the hands of the Trumps and the Le Pens of this world.

  11. Pingback: On French beach French police forces woman to undress in public | Marcus Ampe's Space
  12. Osyth · August 25, 2016

    It is, of course, all about fear. And the insidious flames of fear are fanned by self-serving politicians and their ‘bought’ media henchmen. France banned Religious attire in the workplace and it is a blanket ban. I won’t cast an opinion except to say that where there is parity at least there is a dignity in knowing everyone, no matter what there beliefs is treated equally. But this is not the workplace, this is a beach and this is singling out ONE belief system and ordering it to undress. No Catholic nun nor Buddhist monk will be told to disrobe, of course so it is victimising one group and that is foolhardy and inflammatory. I have no desire nor need to wear Burkha, nor indeed a nun’s habit or even those beguiling saffron robes of Buddhas most devout followers, but I fail to see what harm there is in wearing a version of a wetsuit to bathe. I cannot and will not in any way condone this action but I will add a caution that the Policemen were carrying out orders and I feel their anonymity should have been protected in what is a highly combustible image that was always destined to go viral.

    • MELewis · August 26, 2016

      I just read that Sarkozy kicked off his presidential candidacy campaign yesterday by stating that if elected he would ban the burkini across France. If he is nominated, he will not get my vote. Indeed, Osyth, those policemen have a hard time of it, on the front lines of dealing with the public and some of them Muslims themselves. You and I have already noticed similarities between Brit and American politics (‘Trumpton’) and now I see the same trend towards hate and fear-mongering spreading in France. Let’s hope it burns itself out – I have a certain faith in the intelligence and fair-mindedness of the French (although I have been called naïve!).

      • Osyth · August 26, 2016

        I too have that faith but I too have been called naïve too many times and am still reeling from Brexit! And Sarkozy? Perhaps like Farrage he’d better go and give Doris a hand in the US – they all seem to be singing from the same fatuous hymn-sheet 😱😱

  13. Susanne · August 25, 2016

    Bravo to you for taking your opinion to the blogosphere. You clearly have no fear. As a teenager I was embarrassed by my burgeoning body and routinely wore cut-off jeans (not of the Daisy Duke variety) and a t-shirt to swim both in the pool and at the beach. One of my daughter’s always wears a t-shirt over her bikini for the same reason. When I taught aqua-fitness I wore the equivalent of a burkini (minus the head-scarf)for visibility in the water. I also liked that I didn’t have to wax my bikini line but that’s a side-bar. I am deeply offended by anyone telling me what I can and cannot wear and believe on one level this is entirely a feminist issue. It is ironic that the burkini was created for the opposite of feminist reasons but I’ll take it up as a woman’s right to choose her own wardrobe wherever, whenever.

    • MELewis · August 26, 2016

      I’m not exactly known for being fearless (at least to those close to me!) but when I believe something strongly I have a hard time keeping it to myself. Interestingly, I have some similar memories of swimming in cut-offs (must have been a fashion ‘thing’?) and also I believe that whole body shame thing is, sadly, part of the feminine condition, especially for teenaged girls. As I get older (and fatter) I see to be less and less concerned about it. There are clearly practical advantages to the burkini and why should we not decide for ourselves what feels right?

  14. ambradambra · August 26, 2016

    I agree that women should be allowed to wear what they like. One thing puzzles me though: the name ‘Burkini’. I’ve heard broadcasters describe the swimming outfit as “halfway between a burka and a bikini”. Perhaps they’re following the description on the manufacturer’s labels? In which case, it’s curious (or clever) branding. It’s made a modest swimming costume sound sexy. Any thoughts?

  15. poshbirdy · August 26, 2016

    I think it’s a fantastic piece of clothing and a great solution for anyone. Such a shame that prejudices like this, based on fear, exist

  16. Mél@nie · August 26, 2016

    @”What do you think about the burkini?” – je pense que c’est un sujet futile et débile… la France a bcp d’autres soucis à se faire!!! 😉

    • MELewis · August 27, 2016

      Agree Melanie. My title for this post was going to be ‘Much ado about the burkini’. Because it really is nothing…

  17. Dana · August 28, 2016

    I’m so glad you wrote about this because the whole situation makes my blood boil. I’m glad that even though you’re French now, you still do feel the same way as most of us outsiders looking in (even us outsiders who live in France)

    Did you edit your post a bit? You had a great comparison of a woman who tries to compare wearing Christian relics to Muslim relics when speaking about La Laïcité. I thought it was important to add that because so many French people think that way…

    • MELewis · August 29, 2016

      Dana, so glad you enjoyed the perspective! I did no editing to this post, so perhaps you are referring to a comment from Zipfslaw1?

      • Dana · August 29, 2016

        I will have to check! Planning a follow up post on this as well!

  18. acflory · August 29, 2016

    I couldn’t help wondering whether there was not an element of ‘punishment’ being meted out to those Muslim women. As in, “We can’t fight the terrorists or protect ourselves, but we can hurt you and that will make us feel better.”
    I know it’s human nature, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it. 😦

    • MELewis · August 30, 2016

      I think that sort of bullying mentality may be part of the complex psychological soup that is swirling around in some French minds. But the whole thing is really just the most visible tip of the iceberg, and it has become a symbol of bigger things. Either way, it seems entirely unfair that women should bear the brunt of it.

      • acflory · August 30, 2016

        Agreed. I thought the world had moved on from this, at least in the West. 😦

  19. midihideaways · August 30, 2016

    I felt pretty outraged when I heard about the burkini ban, and about the crowds marching on a mostly muslim neighbourhood (was that in Corsica?). I can see the point of banning the headscarf in French schools, which are totally secular, but all the burkini ban is doing is to drive muslims further away from integrating with the rest of society. I just don’t understand why the mayors have done this, other than to court controversy and to get their names in the media. Shades of the 1930’s?

    • MELewis · August 30, 2016

      Yes, I think those incidents were in Corsica and perhaps Nice. For some reason, the south of France has traditionally been the home turf of the far right. Agree it is sad to see people of Muslim faith (who are often also French citizens) feeling outcast. I can understand a certain fear if the population of one ‘foreign’ culture (ie burkini-wearing) begins to dominate to the point where the native culture feels excluded, but so far in most parts of France this is not the case. The entire brouhaha has been ‘récupéré’ by the politicians and exaggerated out of proportion. Anyway, hopefully now that the Conseil d’Etat has overruled the ban in one town, creating a legal precedent, the issue will begin to fade into oblivion. Fingers crossed!

      • midihideaways · September 2, 2016

        fingers crossed indeed! 🙂

  20. Pingback: Souriez, c’est la rentrée! – FranceSays
  21. Pingback: Secularism in France becoming dangerous for freedom of religion | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten
  22. MyBeirut · December 30, 2016

    Great read, thanks!! Burkini or bikini, the Lebanese will make it sparkle anyway 🙂

    • MELewis · December 31, 2016

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your blog. You bring a welcome lighter side to the whole burkini kerfuffle.

  23. Pingback: Controversial burkini issue in France not finished yet – Some View on the World

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s