Beach culture is strange. It’s strange because we’re mortified at the thought of being seen in our undies, but we wear bathing suits consisting of the same amount of material without a second thought. It’s strange because we spend the weeks, or even months, leading up to summer preparing our bodies to impress other people — people who are so preoccupied with their own bodies that they’re unlikely to pay much attention to anyone else’s. It’s especially strange that we’re supposed to spend 100 or more dollars on tiny pieces of fabric that are probably worth a fraction of the cost. Why are bikinis so expensive!?
Basically, there are tons of different directions that swimsuit designer Jessica Rey could have taken when critiquing the swimsuit. The direction she chose to take, however, was one step back for womankind.
Rey’s speech goes from mildly intriguing to brutally sexist around the four minute mark. Around this time, she references a study done at Princeton where the brain activity of heterosexual, male students was monitored as they were shown pictures of women wearing bikinis. The study (which is, in fact, completely legitimate and can be read about on the National Geographic website) showed that the part of the brain associated with tools like screws and hammers lit up when the students were exposed to scantily clad women. In addition, men associate pictures of women in bikinis with first person verbs like “I push” and “I grab,” while they associate modest looking women with third-person verbs.
Rey may as well have been saying “if you wear a bikini you’re asking for it” over and over again for 9 minutes because it would have had the exact same effect as this video. She masterfully dances around words like “slut” and “rape,” although it’s quite clear that she’s telling women that if they wear a bikini they’re inviting all men to “hammer” and “screw” them.
In a holier-than-thou tone, she scolds women for using their “power to shut down a man’s ability to see them as people rather than objects.” In Rey’s eyes, a man feeling the need to attack a woman because of the way she dresses is a flaw in the woman’s character. Instead of saying that men should not see women as objects, she says that women should not allow men to see them as objects.
She tactfully leaves out the fact that men go completely topless at the beach, exposed bellybutton and all. On top of this, men are permitted to go shirtless in public without question or fear of invoking violent sexual desires in others. This doesn’t matter to Jessica Rey, though, because men don’t have a duty to be modest and unassuming. They can be as aggressive as they want, and women should enable this by dressing in ways that allow men to feel comfortable.
Rey is wrong. Several extra inches of fabric on your midriff will not stop you from being raped or assaulted by a person who wants to rape or assault you. Sexual violence can be stopped by telling people that it is unacceptable, not by hiding and oppressing women so they aren’t at risk. Sexual violence is the fault of the perpetrator, not the victim. This is a very serious problem that can’t be solved by a slightly more “modest” swimsuit.
She then goes on to say that the swimsuit you choose to wear has an effect on whether or not you are treated as an equal and whether or not you are in control and are taken seriously, suggesting this is more attainable to the “modest” woman. By saying this, she makes the unbelievably ludicrous claim that a woman’s basic rights are contingent on whether or not she wears a bikini or a one piece bathing suit. If a woman is not seen as an equal and is not in control of her own body because of her swimwear choice, that shows a very, very serious flaw in society. Rey, however, agrees that there is a problem with society. She says that it is society’s fault that little girls are running around in “sexy underwear” and “skimpy bikinis,” as though seeing a toddler in a G-string is a common occurrence. If even a child can’t wear a bathing suit without being sexualized there most definitely is a problem, and it’s not a problem with swimwear.
Finally, she suggests that women have a natural sense of modesty about them that has been stripped away by modern culture, and it needs to be brought back. Nothing, in my opinion, is more insulting than women telling other women how to be a “real woman.” Rey seems to think she is an expert on how the ideal female should portray herself, and is perfectly confident in telling other women how they should feel about their own bodies. She speaks as though she’s stuck in the 1950s, when she needs to accept that society is constantly in a state of progressing. Women weren’t just forbidden from wearing revealing swimsuits in the past, they were forbidden from doing, well, pretty much anything. Rey romanticizes history with her retro looking, “modest” bathing suits but fails to acknowledge that progressive women (some of which probably wore bikinis, believe it or not!) have allowed her all the rights she has today — including getting an education, like that MBA she talks about. A “natural” sense of modesty isn’t real. All women have their own thoughts and feelings and opinions, and just because Jessica thinks that modesty is the way to go doesn’t mean the whole world should.
Rey seems to think that her speech will disillusion women and persuade them to wear clothing that’s appropriate for male eyes. She, however, is the one who is under the illusion. Women who are taken seriously and are in control do not rely on their appearance to dictate how they are treated by others. A woman is not successful or respected because of the amount of spandex and polyester material she wears in the pool. Maybe instead of going around giving motivational speeches on how we need to stop dressing like “sluts” if we want men to respect us, she should be telling young girls to focus on the content of their personalities. And above all, she should be telling girls that they need to wear what makes them feel comfortable, not what makes men feel comfortable.
Lastly, she says that we’re all beautiful and poses us with the question, “how will you use your beauty?” To answer your question, Jessica, I’ll use my beauty however I want. Not however a man wants, and especially not however you want. A swimsuit is a fashion choice, and that’s all it is. It does not have an effect on your value or your ability to succeed, and it should definitely not have an effect on your safety. And it doesn’t have to be itsy bitsy, but it also doesn’t have to be modest. It can be whatever you want, because your bathing suit should reflect nobody’s needs but your own.