Beverly Godfrey column: Search for something suitable
It’s time to ditch the stretched-out maternity swimsuit I’ve been wearing for a decade; that decision isn’t hard. But what to get in its place? That’s more difficult to decide.
Judging by what I see in stores and online, the thing I’m looking for isn’t common. I’d like a suit that goes to my knees and covers my shoulders, but isn’t heavy like a wetsuit. It also would be great to have a pocket for my keys.
My desire for a modest suit is fueled by several factors: I live someplace cold, I burn easily, and I just don’t like walking around in what feels like underwear. Also, I don’t go swimming so much as splashing around, often with a small child in my arms, so while I don’t want to drown from heavy clothing, my swimwear doesn’t require zero drag and racing speed.
Looking at swimsuits from the past, I’d need to travel to the 1920s for a suit that covers as much as I want. By the 1930s, they were already getting too small. While I was reading about the topic, I found it interesting that smaller swimsuits are often seen as a sign that women are gaining equality in society.
It’s funny that walking around nearly naked can mean that, but I suppose it does. There are many precedents for unfair persecution, with men wearing what they want and women being told to cover up. Swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman was arrested in 1907 in Massachusetts for wearing a full-bodied yet form-fitting suit. I’m glad that seems wrong by today’s standards, but I still wonder why more women don’t want to be more covered up.
One mainstream website billed its more modest suits as “slimming,” coming in “plus sizes.” I see that and think “tight,” with a stomach panel pushing hard at my middle, strongly discouraging me from eating another hot dog. And they still don’t cover much, looking like miniskirts instead of underpants.
My online quest took me so far as to learn what a Burqini is. The Burqini is a trademarked name for swimwear made by a company that adheres to Muslim guidelines for women’s clothing
Honestly, I like how the suits look. I think I’d be quite comfortable sitting on the Park Point sand, protected from sun, chilly wind and biting flies. But I’m not Muslim, and I’d feel like an awkward poser in a Muslim swimsuit.
Moving on, I found other “modest” swimsuits being sold by companies that have some connection to a conservative religion. I could get a dress-type suit for Amish people, or another for conservative Jews, including a swim hat to cover a married woman’s hair. A company out of Utah sells suits with built-in shorts and a sarong; the designer is a Mormon home-schooling mother of seven. (I was feeling busy until I considered what her to-do list must look like.)
While writing this, I looked at a lot of historic photos online of women in bathing suits. They look like they’re having a lot of fun in their baggy tops and wool ruffles, and it made me wonder which was the better time to be a woman.
On the one hand, they might have suffered having a policeman measure whether their suits were long enough. But on the other hand, none of them looked like they were walking around feeling fat. It’s sad to think that shrinking swimsuits have run side-by-side with the pressure for women to be thinner. I believe even Marilyn Monroe would be shopping for “plus-size” suits today.
So my quest continues, taking into consideration modesty, comfort, social norms and an unexpected dose of feminist angst. Meanwhile, men, I’m pretty sure, just check the waist size when they’re shopping.