Well this is exactly what I want to wear to the beach when it’s 90 degrees out.
I’m with Robin: These suits are just plain ugly, and the push for “modesty” is nothing more than misogynist clap-trap.
The makers of WholesomeWear swimsuits would like women to cover up their tummies. And their backs. And their arms. And half their legs. The Oregon company, based outside Portland, sells a collection of swimwear online that consists of a wet suit topped by a dress. The spandex underpinning is not sufficient on its own because bystanders would still be able to make out the curves of the woman’s body. The nylon overdress takes care of any audacious display of an hourglass shape.
I do hate to make the obvious association, but what other infamous article of clothing does this sound like?
The company has found a following among older women who like to wear the suits for water aerobics, larger women who prefer more coverage poolside and women whose husbands like to act as fashion consultants.
“I’m very surprised at the men who call because they don’t want their wives and daughters running around in their underwear,” Ferguson says.
Aww. How sweetly paternalistic of them.
WholesomeWear is going into its fifth year and, according to Ferguson, has sold thousands of swimsuits in three styles: culotte, skirted and “slimming,” which looks like a loose-fitting housedress. There is an option with the slimming suit to extend the sleeves below the elbows and to lower the hem so it ends just above the ankles. A woman would be swimming in something akin to a choir robe. “These are designed to highlight the face and not the body,” Ferguson says. That may be true, but a woman is more than just a disembodied head. Why be fearful of the rest of her?
Because the rest of her is a temptation to sin, my friend. You see, God may have created woman with breasts and hips and an ass, but these things are nonetheless evil, and any indication of them is bad.
The company may not be preaching to a specific denomination, but it is nonetheless preaching. Ferguson describes her family as “Christian people who love the Lord.” And the swimsuits are “a ministry.”
It is hard to look at the prim swimwear — $89 retail — and not feel as though the company is cranking back the clock to the 1920s. All that fabric denies women the sense of liberation that comes with the freedom to celebrate the body. (The company offers swimsuits only for women and girls. There are no alternatives for a man who is gun-shy of surf shorts.)
This is because the male body is not synomymous with sex. And while the male body is just as capable of committing sin as the female body, it is apparently not as capable of inticing innocent members of the opposite sex to sin. And so we must encourage women and girls to swim in cumbersome, tent-like suits.
And these things don’t look like they’re easy to manuever in. I was a lifeguard through high school and college, and when I worked at an outdoor pool we used to have to practice rescues fully dressed in sweatpants and sweatshirts. The justification was that on cold days we sat outside fully covered up, and if we wanted to guard that way, we had to be able to perform rescues dressed like that. And I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy. All of us were swim team kids who had been raised around water, and we were all excellent, strong swimmers — but make me rescue a 6’2″ 200-pound man while I’m in heavy cotton sweatpants, a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, and I’m gonna have a hell of a time. Given that we were all strong swimmers, we all made the rescues — but it was really, really difficult. Even swimming with a t-shirt over your swimsuit makes swimming harder. I can’t imagine getting a good water work-out in when you’re covered from neck to elbows to knees.
But then, I suppose that physical mobility for women and girls isn’t their greatest concern here.
One can’t help but consider these body-cloaking suits in the context of July marking the 60th anniversary of the modern bikini, named after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific where the United States tested an atomic bomb. A thrifty person could outfit an entire sorority in bikinis from the fabric in one WholesomeWear slimming suit. To celebrate this milestone in bikini history, there have been countless how-to stories about the best way to wear these teeny-weeny swimsuits. Assouline published “The Bikini Book,” a photo history that opens with a testimonial by author Kelly Killoren Bensimon in which she shares the news that as a thirty-something mother of two daughters she feels more comfortable in a bikini than any other article of clothing. (That comment leaves one with the suspicion that she is either lying or has a financial stake in Speedo.)
When bikinis were first introduced, they were scandalous, but over time they have become less so. One-piece suits have been redesigned so that some of them, with their cut-outs and strategically placed adornments, are more risque than the average bikini. Still, the bikini is forever associated with a woman’s willingness to flaunt her body, to strut her confidence, to revel in her sex appeal. There is liberation — of far more than just the bellybutton — in a bikini.
The bikini was scandelous because it publicly revealed the female body. And, while I think we can all agree that objectification isn’t liberating, the bikini was sort of a big middle finger to the people who saw the female body as inherently sinful and needing to be covered.
Ferguson says her company isn’t on a mission to un-liberate women. “Absolutely not. If people want to buy our suits we’re thrilled, but they certainly don’t have to,” Ferguson says. A person has to have strong convictions “to wear our suits,” she says. If you have those convictions, “you’re not going to care about the liberation or if you get persecuted and made fun of.”
Have strong convictions and you won’t care about liberation! Now that’ll keep the little ladies in line. And I do love how she subtly brings in the Christian persecution thing. Smirking because you’re wearing an ugly bathing suit for a stupid reason (and inexplicably wearing it with reading glasses sitting on your head), or feeling bad for you because your control-freak husband/father doesn’t like your body they way God made it and thinks you’re a temptation to sin, is not the same thing as persecuting you.
WholesomeWear may appeal to certain people of faith, but it also raises many lamentable body issues with which women grapple. Most women dread buying a swimsuit. The occasion is fraught with irrational feelings of inadequacy. Women often joke that they would wear a muumuu to the beach if they could. The truth is there’s nothing to stop them from doing just that. But they know the cure for their insecurity is to let go of cultural expectations and their own skewed self-image. The answer is not to hide the body but to cheer for its ability to swim laps or just sedately float — in a bit of form-fitting, aerodynamic nylon and Lycra. That’s not immodesty; that’s confidence.
It is important to acknowledge that wearing a bathing suit in public is a very stressful experience for many women. It’s been a stressful experience for me, and I went through a phase in adolescence where I always swam with cut-offs and a t-shirt over my swim suit. I had a fantastic bikini-related self-esteem breakthrough last summer when checking out all the gorgeous Italian women of varying ages, shapes and sizes at the beach, and finally having a lightbulb moment that in real life, things like saggy breasts or stretch marks or extra fat or a tummy or thick thighs aren’t actually aesthetically displeasing — but that’s another story for another post. And I still have bathing-suit-related anxiety. and I have it often. The point is, I can relate to the desire to wear a muumuu to the beach. But I still find it highly problematic that this company is playing off of misogynist cultural ideas about the deviant female body in order to sell its product.
In the past, the woman on the beach wearing a bikini was the aberration, the spectacle. But now, a woman in a bikini is commonplace. She spans all ages. And there is something especially compelling about an older woman wearing a two-piece swimsuit, not necessarily to display her curves but to underscore her strength.
A woman swaddled in WholesomeWear’s knee-length nylon would stand out. Not just because she’s covered up but because she’s done it in such an unattractive way. Perhaps she is modest or religious or simply someone who really needs to get over the fact she doesn’t have legs like Naomi Campbell. But in looking at all that camouflaging fabric, at the layers aimed at obscuring the physique, one wonders how a swimsuit “ministry” can save anyone’s soul when such ungainly suits have so little appreciation for beauty.
Agreed. They look like the unfortunate offspring of an ill-fitting housedress and Jeff Spicoli’s wetsuit. And from what I can tell from the website, they are marketed entirely to white people. White people who also enjoy wearing stupid hats.
Now, I am taking my immodest, bikinied ass to the beach. And I might even be a real sinner by putting my glorified pectorals on display for all to see. Take that, WholesomeWear.