google images showing various burkini sytles (and one bikini)

|| 21 August 2016

The Burkini Controversy

Anne Barone discusses the current controversy in France of the wearing of the head-to-ankle covering swimwear, the burkini, currently banned on some French beaches.

The French always seem to be arguing about something. The latest controversy arose when a number of mayors of French beach towns and cities issued bans and fines for the wearing the head-to-ankle covering swimwear, the burkini, on their beaches. Burkini is a combo word derived from burka and bikini.

If all this burkini business is new to you, you might want to look at either of links below for background. The Radio France Internationale (RFI) article is succinct. The New York Times article is longer and more detailed.

Radio France Internationale burkini article

NYTimes burkini article

I find this current controversy interesting for two reasons. First, in the late 1970s, I lived several years in Tunisia, a country at that time whose population was 99% of the Muslim faith. I lived in a villa whose back gate opened onto a lovely little Mediterranean beach. The villa was designed so that every room, including the bathrooms, had a beautiful view of the bay and much of the beach. During the warm months, hundreds of Tunisians came to that stretch of beach that I could see from my windows (and on which I also spent a lot of time). The Tunisian women who came to that beach wore swimsuits, some one piece, some bikini. Those who did not wish to go in the water usually wore sundresses. I never saw any woman on that beach wear anything resembling a burkini.

The second thing I find interesting about the current burkini controversy is that the bans against the garments are being issued for individual beaches by the mayors of the various towns and cities. This suggest to me that a reason behind the bans are aesthetic considerations.

The French care deeply about how things look. They care really, really deeply about how French things look. And French mayors seem to have an special interest in how French women look and dress in their capacity as symbols of the nation.

It is the mayors of French towns and cities who choose a “Marianne,” a beautiful woman to be the ultimate symbol of France. (The USA, let us remember, has as our national symbol the bald eagle that in the voting beat out the Benjamin Franklin-nominated turkey.)

Among the Mariannes have been no less than Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and Ines de la Fressange. Tourism is important to all these beach towns and cities and the mayors are aware that tourists come to their beaches expecting to see beautiful French women in all their swimsuit (or less) glory.

Unfortunately, not only are burkinis body-hiding, but we are so accustomed to seeing hooded figures in body concealing outfits as catburglars or villains in action hero movies that those (frequently black) burkinis can appear a bit sinister. And I personally wonder if one can swim safely in a burkini. Surely there are some public safety concerns here.

So whatever the many factors that have prompted the mayors to issue the burkini bans, I think French aesthetics also plays a role.

be chic, stay slim — Anne Barone

Image : Google images showing various styles of burkinis and one bikini.