Say you're a nice young Muslim woman who wants to go swimming. You dress modestly, but are more-or-less modern, as far as things go. Up till a few years ago your alternatives were

  1. Find someplace where men are not going to see you, and swim with other women. (If you can, when you can.)
  2. Cover up in thin cotton, thus suddenly enveloping you with a load of clothing that impedes any movement whatsoever and weighs a ton.
  3. Wear a decadent Western suit, adapting as well as you can and pray for your soul, your reputation, and possibly your life.
  4. Don't.
No more. In 2007 Aheda Zanetti, a Lebanese woman living in Australia invented the Burkini, a thin, wetsuit-like garment with a hood, form following rather than fitting, in fashionable colors and black, a design since copycatted throughout the Muslim world, and has become the unofficial uniform for women of the Australian Muslim Life Guard Club. Don't get me wrong. I'm not even Muslim but I want one. They look great, and must feel heavenly, since nothing's going to chafe, bind, or have to be tugged on. Since I enjoy ocean swimming into the Fall, this might extend the season a little, and, of course, it's excellent protection against sun, wind, rocks and jellyfish (an advantage the Aussies above often cite). The veil/hoodnik, unlike most swim caps, looks like it was designed for women with actual hair. It's the most realistic solution I've seen for plus sizes, and imaginative souls can extrapolate all manner of burkinis for every shape, size and age. (Inset cups! Tailoring!) Though it's been featured in Opus, I'd just love to see how Cathy is going to survive this. It's like what George Carlin said about O'Doul's: it's not for beer drinkers when they're not drinking beer, it's for all the rest of us..."for longshoremen, when they're not longing for the shore!"

The only problem with it are the French, who have added the burqini to their long list of Things You Can't Swim In (along with surfer shorts), because "it could possibly be worn on the street, and can transmit molecules, viruses, etc. to other bathers." Yeah, don't want to catch any molecules there. Could lead to something. "We are going back in civilization. Women have fought for decades for equal rights with men", moaned the mayor of the small town in France where a woman was barred from the pool for wearing one. "Now we are putting them back in burqas and veils."

I have a different idea. I think he's dreading the idea that women might want to choose their attire for themselves, whether through faith, conscience, or mere comfort, leaving him not having the opportunity to view any amount of female flesh. For the women who must wear these (as in, they're living in Saudi Arabia) to swim, it's a step towards liberation. To those that want to do so, for any kind of reason, I see no harm done. Live and let swim! (And if anyone wants to take me to Wild Wadi this winter, I'm game!)

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