I've been on a few beaches this summer. I plan to be on a few more. And, with my unhealthy obsession with fashion, I have analyzed and overanalyzed the latest swimsuit trends. So while I'm glad that The Washington Post's Pulitzer prize-winning fashion reporter Robin Givhan turned her critical eye to swimwear, I can't say I'm sure she's hit on something sweeping the nation's sandy areas. I can't say the nation's beaches are beset by overly modest women. In her story on bikinis and modesty, she takes a long look at WholesomeWear, a company that makes full-coverage swimsuits. Wetsuits topped with nylon dresses, essentially. The article is not bad. It's interesting. It's worth writing about. What is funny is how desperately she tries to tie the production and marketing of the swimsuits to some religious motivation but fails to do a good job of analyzing any religious underpinnings she finds:
The collection is not aimed at practitioners of any specific religion. There is no obvious mention of spirituality, God, Allah or Joseph Smith on the company's Web site. . . .
The company may not be preaching to a specific denomination, but it is nonetheless preaching. [Joan] Ferguson describes her family as "Christian people who love the Lord." And the swimsuits are "a ministry."
Well that was sure illuminating. Thanks, Ms. Givhan. I can't imagine I'll ever have a better opportunity to share with you one of my favorite sites (with the longest URL I can recall seeing). Trust me, it's worth it. And if you like that, some Amazon user has come up with a list of modest swimsuits. Just don't tell Andrew Sullivan.
Much of the piece is spent in Givhan's trademark style: writing unsubstantiated declarative sentences in the least kind way possible. I completely agree with her view that these modesty suits are bad for women. I just wish she would have interviewed more than one person for the story. She speaks with a woman at WholesomeWear. She speaks with no one else. She doesn't find out anything about the particular religious mindset that thinks such full-coverage suits are more holy than other ones. She doesn't consider the religious basis for views in support of modesty. I know she's not a full-time religion reporter, but maybe she could have scoured some previous coverage for tips about correctly nailing the religious issues:
It's understandable that some men and women may feel frustrated and scandalized in a culture that accommodates micro-miniskirts, cropped halter tops and visible thongs. They want someone to stand up and say, "Put some clothes on, darn it!" But surely, in the search for modesty, wouldn't one stumble across something decent and virtuous before getting all the way to a nylon shroud? Wouldn't a demure tankini do? Or a one-piece with a matching skirt?
I love that paragraph. Which, given my distaste for Givhan, is saying something.
But in looking at all that camouflaging fabric, at the layers aimed at obscuring the physique, one wonders how a swimsuit "ministry" can save anyone's soul when such ungainly suits have so little appreciation for beauty.
See, I'm right with Givhan's making a blanket fashion pronouncement about the value of the swimsuit ministry. But I really wish that she would have interviewed actual experts about this very doctrinal issue rather than rely on herself. The story really could have used a bit more depth.
Photo via Seaside Rose Garden on Flickr.