Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot… Burkini

Same ole, same ole: Politicizing women's bodies using misinformation and misdirection.

by Deedra Abboud in Muslim, Political, Social Views
August 25, 2016 2 comments

Several years ago I decided to travel to Egypt to visit a friend that lived there. She mentioned planning to take me to Dahab, a place in Egypt on the Red Sea. So I decided to buy a Burkini. After a lot of research, I finally purchased one from a company out of Australia.

This was my first burkini. It was blue and turquoise, quite beautiful. I have since purchased a new one that is just turquoise.


In my twenties, I was scuba-diving certified. When I went scuba driving, I wore a wetsuit.

You might think wetsuits are tight, but until you’ve tried to put one on, you have no idea. It makes putting on control top nylons seem like child’s play

Wetsuits are form fitting and tight to serve two purposes:  1) to keep you warm and wet, by allowing the little water that gets in the suit to keep you warm, and 2) to reduce drag from the water, no holding you down or back.

Drysuits, on the other hand, keep you warm and dry but allow drag because they are loose fitting.

Both are made from materials that allow water to slide away rather than weigh you, or the suit, down.

A burkini is like a happy marriage between a wetsuit and a dry suit. Loose fitting and made for swimming while allowing water to slide off the suit. The suit does not stick to you when it gets wet like a t-shirt and shorts do.

Growing up, I only wore one-piece bathing suits. My mom taught us modesty. When I swam in public, I often wore shorts and t-shirts over my bathing suit.

When I became Muslim in 1998, I chose to wear the hijab and dress in clothing that covered everything but my face, hands, and feet. We had a pool at our home that was private, so normal bathing suits worked just fine for me. But if I planned to swim in public, I would want to cover in the same way I dress normally.

Scuba diving was not a major past time in Arkansas, nor is it in Arizona. Most people associate scuba diving with oceans not lakes, which is all we have in both states.

The first time a really saw a lot of people in wetsuits was when I visited California for the first time after moving to Arizona. It was a very warm August day. When I arrived at the beach, I saw several people swimming around in the ocean wearing wetsuits. I wondered why… until the water hit my legs.

Wow! The Pacific Ocean is way colder in the summer than the Atlantic Ocean. Until that day, I had only ever visited the ocean on the east coast: Florida, Georgia, Lousiana. And of course the Gulf in Texas. Even in September, the water on the south and east sides of the United States is lukewarm, very enjoyable.

Not so on the west coast. It was like ice, even in the summer. So the wetsuits made a lot of sense.

While visiting Egypt, we did go to the Red Sea, and I did wear my burkini. The water was nice, but burkinis were scarce. In fact, my friend and I were the only burkinis on the beach. Everyone else, men and women alike, were wearing regular bathing suits, mainly bikinis.

Though I have never worn my burkini in Dubai, I have been to the beaches many times. Funny enough, I never saw a burkini there either. I did see a lot of bikinis, though.

The same when I went to Lebanon and Bahrain. Lebanon beaches are full of bikinis. The hotel where I stayed in Bahrain, not only had bikinis, and only bikinis, at the pool, but alcohol dance parties too.

The hotel in Malaysia was equally bikini clad around the pool.

A few times I have had guests at our home and we decided to swim. When it was not just the girls, I wore my burkini.

I wore my burkini when my husband and I traveled through Alabama and stopped to swim at Dauphin Island. No one paid us any mind. They probably just assumed I was wearing a wetsuit, something not so uncommon in the Gulf of Mexico areas.

I have also worn my burkini at beaches in Cancun. Again, with no reaction. Wetsuits are equally not uncommon there.

In fact, the only time I ever had any reaction to my burkini from people around me was in Jordan.

My husband and I went to Jordan for a wedding. We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in Amman. My young nephew and niece wanted to go swimming, so I said I would take them at the hotel. 

I wore my burkini. I thought nothing of it. We walked out to the pool, everyone there was Arab, not a non-Arab to be found. Whether they were Muslim or not would be impossible to tell, but statistically, most likely most of them were.

I was the only burkini-clad woman. All the other women wore two-piece bathing suits – not even one-pieces. And the men… The men wore speedos. Not trunks, speedos. Every single one.

Not that how others dressed bothered me; nor did it bother me that I was dressed differently.

I’m always dressed differently.

We swam a bit and then I got out of the pool. As I sat on a pool chair just a few feet from the edge of the water and watched my niece and nephew swim, a man walked in front of me. At first, I didn’t notice. About the third time, I started paying attention.

He would walk in front of my view, pause and turn his pelvis in my direction before continuing on his way – then he would turn around and do it again… and again… and again….

I finally realized he was letting me see his tightly speedo-wrapped package. It was all I could do not to laugh out loud. He was not paying any attention to the multitude of women around the pool barely dressed. His whole focus was on me.

Did he think I had never seen one?

Honey, I grew up in the United States, have traveled all over Europe, and have seen several weightlifting championship competitions. Speedos, like bikinis, are not a shock.

I just continued to ignore him while hiding my humor. After I got back to the hotel room and shared the story with my husband, we got a good laugh out of it.

On American and European beaches, you see everything: Bikinis, including g-string and speedos. Shorts. Pants. Wetsuits.

And yet, now there is this huge controversy around the burkini. While it is going crazy in France with laws outlawing burkinis, but not wetsuits, arguments about whether burkinis should be allowed in the United States are all over social media.


A person wearing something similar to a wetsuit or drysuit is offensive just because they have a different reason?

A woman wearing a burkini is no different than the multitude of women and men who choose to wear shorts or long pants to swim. Their reasons shouldn’t matter.

Up until sixty years ago, law enforcement still imposed fines, and still society shamed, women for wearing bathing suits that were too high on the thigh, showed too much midriff, or exposed too much cleavage.

Now we want to impose fines and shame women for not showing enough of their body?

Not much of a socially progressive improvement, if you ask me. Women are still the losers.

Why not just mind your own business about what women wear?

Women’s choice of clothing reflects many personal things, including individual expressions of beauty.

Society is completely within its rights to determine what level of nakedness is acceptable to display in public, but society has no right to force women to expose more of their body than they want to.

While feminists and secularists claim the headscarf and burkini are a symbol of women’s subjugation of men, it could be equally claimed forcing women to expose their body in any way is also a symbol of women’s subjugation of men.

One is just as oppressive as the other. Two sides of the same coin.

Oppression and control of women through politicizing their bodies.

So, if you’re against the burkini but have no problem with scuba clothing at beaches, it’s probably time to figure out what your real problem is – because it’s not the suit.










  1. A. Hameed says:

    Very nice essay Deedra !
    The world seems turned upside down since the beginning of the 20th century as you say ! Then, fines would be for nakedness, now fines are for decency, only because decency is related to being a Muslim at the era of Islamophobia !



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