Clothing creates controversy in some religions.

Several religions propagate the idea of modesty in dress, especially when it comes to women. Muslims have a dress code that requires women to cover up their arms and legs, sometimes even their faces. Among Christians are those denominations that insist women wear long-sleeved blouses and shirts, and skirts that fall to the knees. Others do not allow women to wear pants, even the high-waisted ones that in today’s world are considered modest and conservative.

Anyone who scours the internet will realize that a woman does not have to be boring to be modest. There are many styles out there that meet religious interpretations of modesty. But what does a woman wear to the beach if her religion demands modesty?

Globally, women wear clothes tailored to their religion. Muslim women, for example, sometimes wear long swimwear called burkinis. Burkinis were originally introduces in Australia. They are long swimsuits that cover everything excluding a woman’s face, hands, and feet.

Recently, some countries have placed a ban on these beach suits. France and the Czech Republic are two of them. Hotels in the Czech Republic claimed that the ban was because burkinis are not made of ‘swim material’ and were unhygienic. In France, the ban was effected because the clothing “makes swimming more difficult.” In the aftermath of the bans, there is a question as to what such women can do now.

One option would be to refrain from hitting the beaches and hotels as women in the Czech Republic had already begun doing. Another would be to look for suitable trendy ways to modify regular swimsuits to comply with the requirements of their religions. Already, there are many designers tailoring clothes to more conservative women including Melanie Elturk, the founder, and CEO of Haute Hijab. With a little time, these designers could come up with suitable beach wear to meet religious modesty requirements.

A simpler alternative would be to wear something over one-piece swimsuits to make them beach-ready. For instance, a girl could wear shorts over her suit, whereas a woman could wear a long tunic above it. These would help cover up while on the beach, but they would have to be removed before entering the water.

Even as we suggest ways for women to cover up on the beach, the bigger issue remains about the role of religion in modesty. Proponents of the covering up argue that it is respectful and dignified for a woman to cover herself up. Others say that it is a good sign for a devout woman to be modest in her dressing. Also, they add, covering up doesn’t have to be boring. One can either choose to call it fashion or restriction. Those who oppose the idea of forced modesty think of it as propagating sexism. According to them, it encourages women to think their bodies as objects which need to be covered up to deflect attention, which is sexist.

And with all those arguments comes a greater question: is this a form of religious discrimination?


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