When you say I can’t wear a bikini, this is what you’re also saying…  

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest


Dear Makers of the Pool Rules,

I’ve been thinking about your family-friendly set of pool rules, which include safety rules like “no running”, “no diving”, and “no glass bottles at the pool”. Among these, you also have a rule about acceptable clothing: tankinis and swim shorts and one-pieces are okay… but please, “no bikinis”.

Dear rule-makers, when you say that I can’t wear a bikini, this is what you are also saying:

You are saying you don’t trust me to make good choices as a woman.

You are saying you don’t trust me as a parent to be having conversations about self-respect and clothing with my children.

By spelling out a dress code for women, you are saying that, at some level, you agree with the problematic (and offensive) societal message that a woman’s acceptability and welcome is based on her body.

Spelling out a no-bikini rule adds to the horrid fear and shame culture which the women in our day are struggling with: we cover because we fear men’s eyes, we cover because it is shameful not to. I, for one, think we should cover for different reasons (to protect intimacy) – but when your rules are policing what I wear, the issue gets tangled.

As it happens, I prefer not to wear bikinis in public. I took my children to a swimming pool a few weeks ago and was miserable to discover I had accidentally forgotten my rash guard at home. I personally like to cover not only for the sake of keeping my body for my husband’s eyes, but also because I have a near-pathological fear of the sun. But that’s my choice. On that day, being found in 105F heat with three wilting and whining kids – should I have had to turn around, forfeit the $15 I paid in entrance fees, and taken my kids home because I only had a bikini?

Modesty and dress code are culturally relative things: it seems like bikinis are almost mandatory in Hawaii, whereas in France, Bermuda shorts are forbidden and speedo-type swimwear is mandatory at public swimming pools!

Yours is a family-friendly, faith-based facility, and I respect and appreciate that your pool culture prefers more coverage rather than less: Bermuda shorts rather than Speedos for men, one-pieces rather than bikinis for women. However, the way you’ve phrased the rule strikes me as legalistic, and we women are already facing such a horrid battle against being sexualized and objectified. Your rule, as it stands, is saying you’re on the side of policing women’s bodies, rather than being on the side of respect.

Can I respectfully suggest, then, that perhaps you rephrase your policy? Perhaps something like this:

“Our family-friendly community values modesty, and we trust you to show respect for yourselves and others in your dress code. Thank you.”

A move like that would be consistent with all the other, wonderful, life-affirming programs and activities you hold. And, such a rule surely would be better at teaching us about dignity from the inside-out, rather than trying to impose it from the outside-in. As Gina Dalfonzo’s helpful rule of thumb says: “Dress like you respect yourself.”

Just a thought.


A self-respecting and respectful woman.





Leave a Reply:

12 thoughts on “When you say I can’t wear a bikini, this is what you’re also saying…  ”

      1. I meant were you at a camp or conference center? A ministry site of another sort? Some other Christian place? That type of context would help inform what might be an appropriate way to understand the concerns they raise.

  1. Holly Snyder Thompson

    Hi Bronwyn – first comment! I love that you are bringing this up, it’s good to talk about. I’m going to push back and say that, for me, the alternative language of “trusting” me to make a decision that shows respect for myself and others is really patronizing and would probably infuriate me just as much as the original modesty dress code. To me, that statement implies that I have child-like decision making capabilities and that I already agree with them that a bikini is immodest, so they don’t have to spell it out. Additionally, the “dress like you respect yourself” idea conveys to me implicitly that wearing a bikini isn’t respecting myself. Which I wholeheartedly disagree with. I want all women to wear what they feel comfortable wearing (rash guard, hijab, bikini, all the things) and to not have to deal with male-centric definitions of modesty. My two cents.

    1. Hey Holly – LOVE that you left a comment and love that you are pushing back! Yes, I see your point – and there is an extent to which any rules at all are patronizing. Is it really necessary to say “don’t bring glass to the pool” as if we were children who don’t know that glass could break? On the issue of dress, I would probably prefer they didn’t say anything at all, but since we do live in a world where there are “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules in restaurants, and there are pools where there is a concern to keep things on the conservative end… then work with me here: I suspect the rule is not aimed so much at adult women as at teens who are often found at the swimming pool without their parents – a stage when everything is still being Figured Out. In this situation, the rules are acting in loco parentis.

      For a teen girl then, for example, I imagine that on the one hand – she feels she should wear a bikini or else she won’t be attractive or cool. But on the other hand – she shouldn’t wear a bikini because otherwise others will shame her for showing her body and Causing Men To Stumble (ugh. Where is the “no ogling” rule, then?) Either way – she is still caught between messages telling her to bikini- or not-bikini based on what OTHERS will think. By phrasing it in the “please respect yourself” way – perhaps the message the teen is getting that she needs to think about what SHE wants (and not whether she is enticing enough to boys, or too-enticing, as the case may be) – and also to learn to judge how to fit in in the culture around her in a loving and respectful way.

      I also don’t think this rule (or guideline) would just apply to girls. I would think it should also apply to people who wear hideous (and frightening!) T-shirts with demons/monsters and other things which scare my children. In a ‘modest’ (read: conservative) environment, I would hope the dress guidelines would also cause rude/scary-shirt-wearers to be think carefully about their environment…

      But having said all that: yes, probably all still patronizing. But then again, so is being required to wear a seat belt.

  2. I’m just surprized that Tankinis are ok, but Bikinis are not??? There really is very little difference, except for a little piece of cloth that keeps top and bottom together.
    Maybe that is why I don’t swim in public 🙂

  3. Just had a conversation this morning with a couple high school girls. Thank you so much for saying what I’ve been trying to say. Love the change in perspective and motivation.

Comments are closed.

Recent Posts

Friend Bronwyn on Facebook Add Bronwyn on G+ Follow Bronwyn on Pinterest Image Map

Never miss a post!

Enter your email below to stay up to date with new blog posts and my monthly newsletter.

Bronwyn Lea

©Copyright 2019

Photo credit: Christa Norman, Mel Draper Photography, and Jonathan Summer