Culture At Large

The God-honoring freedom of the bikini

Caryn Rivadeneira

After announcing that indeed she would need a new bathing suit (or two) this summer, my 9-year-old said, “But remember, unlike you, I hate two-pieces. No bikinis!”

And something like a stab ran through my heart. How could my own flesh and blood say such blasphemy against perhaps the greatest - if most misunderstood and misused - bit of clothing ever invented: the bikini?

Granted, I understand how she might not prefer bikinis. Certainly I get that a bikini is not as conducive to the swimming and chasing and jumping and underwater handstanding my daughter is known to do at the pool for hours every day.

But hate them?

Certainly I understand that my daughter is not the only one to feel this way. Come summer, I know lots of folks for whom the very word bikini brings on the shakes. They’re immodest, they say. Too sexualized for Christian women and girls.

And in some cases, I agree. A string bikini tied over a 2-year-old’s diaper borders on creepy. I get that the bikini top over open-buttoned denim shorts at Six Flags is ick. And no: bikinis do not have a place serving food in bars or prancing across beauty-contest stages. These are instead travesties, misuses and abuses of the bikini’s God-honoring purpose in life.

The bikini is both worship and witness in one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny package.

Stay with me.

Bikini historians believe Louis Réard named his invention after the Bikini islands, where atomic bombs were tested. Réard apparently (and rightly) guessed his invention could rattle the world off its foundations a la the atomic bomb. And I believe bikinis have. Though not for the reasons many think.

Obviously, the bikini has “blessed” beach-going male folk, but the bikini has also been a blessing to women, never more so than when worn by women of all body types and stripes.

Although some bikini historians claim that Réard didn’t invent the bikini, as evidence of bikinis exists from ancient Rome and Minoa, still the female figure has spent much of human history either shrouded away or pushed and pulled, wrapped and floofed, in an attempt to make our bodies behave and conform.

But this all changed with the bikini. With its invention, women were given freedom to be women, to let our actual female shapes be seen as they are - nearly. To hearken back to Eden, to a time when we could be naked and unashamed.

When we bound into waves or lie under the sun's hot rays or jump into blue depths in bikinis, we declare our bodies to be enough - just as they are. And whether our bodies are taut or flabby, whether they're prime or well past it, standing confidently in a bikini declares our God-crafted bodies as beautiful and good. And in turn, we proclaim other women’s bodies are also good.

When we can proclaim this - in this world that has so long sought to shame women and our bodies - we worship God with our physicality. Not only because it’s a physical expression of the vulnerability and humility and grace we’re called to share, but because when more of our skin tingles at the touch of the stinging salt or crisp chlorine or warms under the sun’s baking rays, our bodies glory in God’s creation in ways they normally don’t and historically could not.

So, really, the bikini is both worship and witness in one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny package. Rattling the world as it both glories in God’s goodness and reveals it.

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