The God-honoring freedom of the bikini

Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira
June 5, 2013

Is wearing a bikini a sin? Or is it a blessing?

Esther Aspling
June 5, 2013

This is fun.
While I don't where a bikini, I have been known to rock skin hugging dresses that show off my mom of 6 kids curves. Because if I don't, I'm giving in to the shame I society forces upon me for having a 'mom gut' (my own term, it's pretty awesome). :-)


June 5, 2013

Your daughter may "hate" them because you don't. If you wore one piece swimming suits she would probably be into the bikini.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
June 5, 2013

I really want to agree with you here Caryn, so help me think through this further. Theologically, I love where you're at. Striving for a world that hearkens back to Eden - rather than the sexist, sex-obsessed one we live in - sounds wonderful, and insofar as something like the bikini helps us do that, I'm all for it.

Yet we're not in Eden. Yes, men who are "distracted" by a woman in a bikini are the ones to blame for it - not the woman - and they should work to discipline themselves from such objectification. At the same time, very few men will do so. How do we reconcile your very good argument with that reality?

This is far from a perfect analogy, but I wonder if this is at all like deciding whether or not to lock my car door in my driveway, even though a number of neighbors have been robbed recently. I shouldn't have to lock it - thievery is the thieves' fault, not mine. Yet is there something to be said for doing what I can to avoid the encounter with the brokenness in the world in the first place? Might modest (ugh, what a horrible word) bathing suits be a way of doing that?

June 5, 2013

I agree with your assessment, Josh, but I also despise the idea that somebody else must dress in a way that causes another to take attention. It's easy to look at a woman in a bikini and say "that's not modest you need to cover more skin" but then we ignore the guys who love the look of a woman in sweat pants and shirt (*raises hand*).

Often times, the call for a woman to cover herself more fully comes from 1 Timothy 2:9 where Paul writes that he wants woman to dress modestly. However, the context here is not to flaunt one's riches and wealth. I suppose the argument could be made that a woman with a fine figure has a form of wealth in that figure, certainly the "flaunt it if you got it" crowd believes this way. But I'm not convinced that Holy Scripture is dictating clothing on this fine of a level.

THAT SAID: she does have a responsibility to communicate women as human. I can say with no hesitation that men who objectify women prefer a girl in a bikini. And these guys believe that girls go out in bikinis to be appreciated in sexual ways. While there may be something of an interesting (if not romantic) philosophy in trying to live the way that Adam and Eve lived, we have to acknowledge that that way of life is less about wardrobe and more about our brokenness as people. No amount of progression that we can make culturally towards our people wearing less clothing is going to accelerate the kind of restoration to our Lord that we really need.

June 5, 2013

I must disagree here; I can embrace my body and physicality without putting it on display for the entire world. I don't advertise what I'm not selling, and it's not because I'm insecure. I seriously doubt that any woman puts on a bikini as an act of worship.

Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira
June 5, 2013

Women were objectified long before the bikini was invented so I'm not sure that the bikini is to blame. Seems to me, some of the most objectified and de-humanized women on the globe wear burqas (though, some burqa-wearers would contest this...thinking of that funny burqa-bikini cartoon that vent viral a while back).

And from a modesty standpoint, I'm just not sure there's REALLY that much difference between MOST bikinis and MOST one-pieces. Neither--in reality--leave much to the imagination. This is why the most "modest" folks shun them all.

Christiaan Funkhouser
June 5, 2013

I completely disagree. As many others have said, your idea is a romantic philosophy, but it's impractical.

It's the whole idea of taking the freedom we have in Christ and ignoring how it affects others just because we have the freedom. (Romans 14 comes to mind.)

When you get down to it and without commenting on things others have already mentioned, this article can do more to damage Christian credibility than it can to help it.

As individuals will use this as an excuse to wear bikinis, and that rational to conform with the world instead of being something different... something set apart from it.

And that is a dangerous thing to have happen because of your writings, I, as a fellow writer, would encourage you to think about the ramifications and what could be said about and justified because of your writings, as opposed to just saying something controversial and trying to force practicality on something that isn't practical.


Catherine Seiwert
June 5, 2013

While you might despise the idea, it doesn't meant that we aren't called to do it. We are called to not cause temptation in others to sin just as much as we are called to not sin ourselves. Modesty is part our intention, part what is appropriate in context, and part what is likely to be the response of those we will be seen by. We have to do our best to not lead others into temptation. While there might be guys that get turned on by baggy sweats, in our culture, we have research that says something very different happens in the average man's brain when looking at scantily clad women compared to those more covered.

Catherine Seiwert
June 5, 2013

I disagree as well. I'm not sure how the bikini is misused or misunderstood. It is shaped how it is for one purpose, to show off someone's body, to look 'sexy'. It is not, in any way, more functional than a one piece (and I'm not talking about some of those 'one pieces' that now have almost as little to them as bikinis). It has very little ability to stay on the very parts that it is meant to cover. Anyone who's jumped off a diving board or been in the ocean waves has likely experienced that. As for sun tans, the only reason you need a tan on your stomach area is if you are wearing a bikini or another piece of clothing that bares too much.

I agree with the other commenters that address the fact that we aren't in Eden anymore. We are prone to sin. To say that women are right and free to bare what they want is absurd. If you follow that line of reasoning to its conclusion, there should be no argument against being naked anywhere you go. You can't say in one context that we're okay to be 'free' and 'unashamed', but yet we're not allowed to be that in most of our day to day lives? People who are arguing against bikinis because of modesty usually aren't doing it in terms of women's body shapes, but the fact that baring so much (again, in our culture) should be left to a place and time and for your husband. That 'vulnerability' and 'humility' we share with our physical bodies is not to be shared with everyone. Of course we can worship God with our physical bodies, even sexual selves, but that doesn't make it devoid of boundaries and it's proper place. It is not worship anymore if it is outside those boundaries. Just like sex isn't good worship anymore if done outside of marriage. There is a reason that Adam and Eve covered up, they were protecting what they knew to capable of being misused.

I think you are conflating a mentality of self-confidence and self-respect with (almost) vanity. By your own statement, bikinis are to proudly display our bodies, but there is a thin, thin line between 'proudly displaying' and 'showing off'. I would truly challenge someone, if they said that they were ONLY buying a bikini because it was what they were comfortable in, that there isn't some level of being confident or feeling good in it because of the very fact that it shows them off or they will be looked at as attractive. That 'showing off' then is what becomes a temptation to men. We are saying, "look at me, admire me,...worship me".

Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira
June 5, 2013

My comment below is meant in response to this. : )

June 5, 2013

Absolutely, Caryn. If we're going to decry the body seen in a bikini, we might as well add in food prepared deliciously, or people enjoying their jobs, because those were mentioned in Genesis 3 too. In fact, those are mentioned explicitly while modesty and the human body is more obliquley addressed there.

Did you see that Aimee Byrd posted on bikinis and modesty today too? ( http://www.housewifetheologian.com/another-look-at-the-bikini-question/) I wonder what it is about two-piece swimwear that this is coming up as a topic on June 5. Is it National Bikini Day or something?


June 5, 2013

I agree with Catherine about the fine line of proud displaying and showing off.

You write,
"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."

This is wonky theology at best and not completely logically sound. As one commenter put it before, if you walk that out logically whats to stop us from being completely naked and letting the sun's rays hit us in places they usually don't.
You can also show humility and grace without showing off skin.
Not that you can't show off skin, but the justification you are using is not strong.

You also write,
"we declare our bodies to be enough - just as they are. And whether our bodies are taught 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."
Why do you need to be in a bikini in front of others to [Declare] your body as good or all women's bodies as good. As a man I don't need you to declare your body as good in a bikini in front of me and neither should you have to resort to that step in order to make that declaration. Its one thing, if you are ashamed of your body and out of fear are not free to wear the clothes you wish, its quite another to push the declaration on other people as though we need to hear it. As though us needing to hear that declaration any more right or true. All women's body's are good and all women are shaped in God's image. You shouldn't need to wear a bikini in order to declare that.

You also wrote this,
"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." What's the difference between this and bikini's at the beach. Maybe these women are christians and are declaring their bodies are good, while they work or earn money. You can't say only at the beach can bikini's be used to declare women's bodies as good.
I agree that I don't want to see bikini's in these places either nor do I really want to see women, in generally, competing over beauty, another post for another day.

With all that being said, I get that as a woman you want to be free not only in Christ but free to be who you are and not be ashamed about it. That in of itself is a beautiful thing. But using your justification and reasoning to be free and where what you want to declare your beauty without considering the ramifications of that decision, is dangerous.
In the end I think some emphasis needs to be placed on not what you wear entirely, but why you wear it and the affects it has. All women know a bikini will draw attention to them and usually not good kind, if a women is ok with that and feels its appropriate I can't argue (much) with that.

June 5, 2013


You've obviously stirred up a hot topic here. Kudos on being the first Christian woman I've ever heard champion the positive value of something so seemingly worldly as a bikini!

I honestly could go both ways on this issue, so I don't want to rehearse anything that you or others have already said. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the table, philosophically and practically.

But I thought I would toss out something that John Piper writes about in his book THIS MOMENTARY MARRIAGE, concerning the "naked and not ashamed" issue. I had never heard this thought before reading his book, and I find it intriguing. Basically, his argument is that, whereas Adam and Eve in pre-sin Eden were right to be "naked and NOT ashamed," we who live in post-sin earth are RIGHTLY ashamed when naked. He avers that God's creation of Adam's and Eve's first clothes (necessitating the death of two animals, no less) were given to illustrate this point: that nakedness in true "innocence" is nothing to be ashamed of; but now that the innocence is lost, nakedness IS something to be ashamed of.

I neither endorse nor challenge this theological perspective. I just thought I would share, because it's an intriguing counterpoint to your persuasive take on the God-honoring worship of a rightly-worn, context-appropriate celebration of this piece of swimwear.

Thanks for a great commentary. This was truly refreshing to read.

Karen Swallow Prior
June 5, 2013

What constructive and helpful comments here! This is a really great discussion, the quality of which is rare in the blogosphere, particularly on these topics.

My honest question is to those who distinguish between the bikini and the one-piece. From the long view--over history and cultures--I just think they are in the same camp and that to put them in different categories is really straining, particularly from other cultural perspectives. Why accept the one-piece rather than call for something more along the lines if the full bathing outfits of the early 1900s? This is an honest question since from some third world and middle Eastern perspectives, the one-piece would be just as scandalous. Unless it is simply that our standards of modesty are truly culturally determined. That I can buy.

Aimee Blue
June 5, 2013

She's right (the author). Insisting good Christian women cover it all up is just giving one a false sense of pride. I remember once at Missionette camp (Pentecostal girls club) wearing culottes and huge, dark tee shirts into a river. It was so stupid. While everyone else on the river just went on with their fun (the way it should be) and tried not to gawk at us and how ridiculous we looked. Plus it was so cumbersome to be weighed down like that. After 25 years of Pentecostalism followed by about 10 of Reformed belief, I own about 5 bikinis and wear them, in the back yard, to the beach, at a pool. I could be dressed head to toe and if a man wanted to "lust" after me, he still would. So he can just get over it if my belly is showing, and get over the fact that as a woman, I have 2 breasts and (gasp!) 2 buttocks. One day the whole flesh of me will be dead and gone----but I'm not there yet.

Shari Dragovich
June 6, 2013

Great blog post, Caryn! I'm not surprised to see you tackle this one at all. I also agree with Karen Swallow Prior on the top-notch discussion points by all those commenting.

I have always been a bikini wearer--I am tall and uncomfortable in one piece suits and most "tankini's" as they are called, don't cover my entire stomach anyway, and I find them horribly constricting--too. Much. Material. They make me hot and sticky when I should be free and unhinged to enjoy the wind and waves and feel of sand on my skin.

I am only going to re-affirm Caryn's argument for the bikini:

The argument that women should be modest so as to not lead her "brother into sin" is so sad because it places more emphasis on avoiding sin rather than full, Christ-centered living. God's creation is beautiful and creative first, functional second. It is the greatest shame of Christianity--the need to make everything so practical and square; we spend all our energy avoiding sin, to the point of missing the freedom we have in Christ; freedom, as Caryn mentioned in her post, to soak in God's beautiful, glorious creation. Fully.

I feel beautiful in my bikini. Not "hot" or "attractive" or "hey, look at my sexiness." Just beautiful. Beautiful as Christ sees me. I refuse to deny myself this closeness to my Creator because the Christian culture has declared a man shouldn't have to control his wandering eyes (or should, but he can't so you, woman, deal with it) or that somehow there is some vast difference in modesty when a small piece of lycra covers my mid-section--as Dr. Prior pointed out in her comment above.

Living to only avoid sin isn't really living, and I think bikini hating being a perfect example.

Erica Schemper
June 7, 2013

As a youth pastor, I had more theological conversations about swimwear than I'd ever imagined possible. (I once even had to go shopping for swimsuits with 5 teenaged girls when they forgot theirs on a youth group trip. 5 Target bikinis on the church credit card!) A group of wise-beyond-their-years teens once concluded that, "Yes, there are swimsuits that are too revealing, but it's as much about the attitude with which you wear a two piece." 15 year old women who were followers of Jesus Christ, critical thinkers, comfortable and unashamed of the bodies God gave them. I am grateful for their witness, and for Caryn's.

Catherine Seiwert
June 7, 2013

Examples of more modest swimware that still is attractive. (While the poses that a handful of the models are in speaks less than modest) http://www.reyswimwear.com/
As for function, either on this blog or another, someone said that a tankini gets twisted up. I've been body boarding, ocean swimming, and regular swimming in both bikinis, tankinis, and one piece suits. The bikini was bar far the most problematic and impractical.
While on the entire spectrum, a foot extra of fabric doesn't sound like a lot, even as a woman, I can say it really changes where my eyes go.

Josh Pease
June 19, 2013

On the off-chance anyone is still checking in on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WJVHRJbgLz8

Great video discussing the evolution of the swimsuit, some academic studies on male reactions to the bikini, and whether all of this is really female empowerment.

July 2, 2013

" I wonder what it is about two-piece swimwear that this is coming up as a topic on June 5. Is it National Bikini Day or something?"

I wonder, too. It does seem that bikinis are getting a lot of coverage (pun intended) lately.

July 2, 2013

"Seems to me, some of the most objectified and de-humanized women on the globe wear burqas..."

Very nice point you made.

Doug Vande Griend
June 3, 2015

Speaking of, as this article does, "naked and unashamed," check out the recently published book by that very title, written by my pastor, Dr. Rob Toornsta. It has much to say about the many nuanced points discussed here.

Available on Amazon of course.

Aaron Vriesman
June 3, 2015

I don't want to say bikinis are wrong and definitely don't want to have rigid rules on length of skirts or width of shoulder straps. Lust can be committed no matter how much skin is covered, so the matter is bigger than bikinis. At the same time, we live in a sex-saturated culture where our minds are exposed to sexually suggestive material frequently outside the marriage context, and the male brain is demonstrably wired differently, to be drawn to women's physical form. Make no mistake, men are responsible for their eyes and imaginations and women should not be made to make all the concessions, but simple awareness of how clothing can either aggravate or support (especially some) men's temptation struggle can go a long way.

July 19, 2015

I agree with a lot of the authors points. But a bikini Could also be Used for good . Take this for example a guy talks to a Christian girl in a bikini, he is talking to her bc he thinks she is hot . They become friends, when faith comes up she gives the gospel message and he would see that being a Christian doesn't exactly limit ur life like people believe it does. They keep talking and he decides to become a Christian. Is this example far fetched ? no, any thing is possible.

Bikinis are like the vegetables and mentioned in Romans. I believe most would agree with that. so for some a bikini is acceptable for some it's not. As a guy I don't see it as a stumbling block. It doesn't take much for a guy to lust just staring at girls eyes is enough.

August 3, 2015

Where are your biblical references for this article that you wrote? That's all I want to ask... http://sounddoctrinecm.org/site/node/299 God bless!

Caryn Rivadeneira
August 3, 2015

As with so many issues, the Bible doesn't speak directly to the issue of one-piece or two... So, I don't have a chapter and verse to supply in which the Lord sayeth bikinis are A-ok. Well, except, that way back in the beginning of Genesis (as I write in my article) God looked upon our naked bodies and declared them good. And even when sin entered the world and Adam and Eve "covered up," I'm guessing what Eve put on was much more like a bikini than a beach burqa.

Of course, people use the "modesty" verse in 1 Timothy 2 to imply bikinis are off limits, but I go with the understanding that modesty means to draw undo attention to yourself. Thus, a bikini could be immodest in a board room but modest at a beach.

Andrew Kutz
September 8, 2015

In regards to Caryn's last comment, where she said that when sin entered the world, Adam and Eve "covered up". Caryn is correct in noting that the "clothes" Adam and Eve make for themselves in Genesis 3:7 were likely more like bikinis than burkas. In fact, the word (translated in the KJV as "apron") literally means "girdle, belt, or loin covering" so it's best to understand these clothes as something very minimal, like a bikini.

However, where Caryn severely errs is in assuming that this covering was sufficient. In the following verses, it is revealed that Adam and Eve then hide from God because, despite their aprons, they still consider themselves to be "naked" (Genesis 3:10). Not only do they think so, but God agrees (Genesis 3:11) and subsequently makes them appropriate clothing. What God makes, however, is not a "loin cloth," but a "coat," an entirely different Hebrew word that would refer to a tunic, or a long shirt down to one's knees, approximately.

If anything, this passage only further enforces the idea that even if someone is wearing some clothes, does not mean that they are clothed. Adam and Eve wore what was probably equivalent to a modern swimsuit, and both they and God considered them naked. I think that is a very important lesson for anyone discussing the merits of swimwear as it relates to worship.

February 17, 2016

In Reply to Melanie2 (comment #20864)
I agree but bikinis aren't bad

July 18, 2016

Totally disagree with your point of view...how can you disgrace God like that? Our naked bodies are for the bedroom.If women feel less desirable in knee-length shorts and a t-shirt for swimming than they really need to evaluate their understanding of Christ. There is no need to be envious of worldly clothing...our bodies are God's & we should glorify Him in what we wear.I would never walk out in fancy underwear just to prove I love my body and what God has created.I love my body with the beautiful covering I wear. Someday...when I am older and God blesses me with a husband...we will enjoy what God made private. I hope your daughter learns how much God loves her...not to prove something to the world but just He truly loves her. This is what we learn in youth group and I'd love to believe that all the kids in my group would chose modesty over flaunting their beautiful God created bodies because that just leads to sexual sin no matter how much you sugar coat it.

June 29, 2017

I can not believe this article. I strongly believe God hates bikinis. That is why he killed animals and covered Adam and Eve. There are boundaries with our bodies. It is a proven fact many people loving to go naked have demonic influence. Our Bodies are the temple of God.

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