Bikini Season by Sarah Kiefer


I grew up in a suburban town stuck in the middle of rural Indiana. I drove through corn fields to get to school and on more than one occasion I did have to crawl through my sun roof to get into my car because I was sandwiched between two monster trucks. My grandfather, an avid bird watcher, waged a personal war against the chipmunks and within one summer caught and drowned anywhere between fifteen and twenty of them until my mom pointed out that he was probably attracting them by putting bird seed on the ground.

I was raised in the non-denominational Christian church and part of my weekly activities was attending youth group. For those of you not familiar with youth group, it’s usually held on Wednesday night for the youth in the church. It’s basically church geared towards pre-teens and teenagers. Some of my fondest memories of my teen years are from youth group. You foster deep friendships in a fun environment and have good role models all the while learning about the Bible in a way that is more easily understood by a young person.

When I was about thirteen I went to a conference with the rest of the girls in youth group. It was a “modesty conference” geared at teaching young women the “biblical” truth of their role as a female and how that translates into how one dresses. We were taught that we are responsible for the relationship between our brothers in Christ and Jesus. One of the ways that we can make them fall is wearing too revealing clothes. If we wore something too tight, too low, or too short, the men wouldn’t be able to control themselves and would sin in the eyes of Jesus. We were encouraged to wear loose t-shirts and shorts that went to the knee in order to keep our brothers from sinning.

The last night was the long awaited fashion show of the conference and we had all stayed up the night before eagerly finishing the dresses we would be modeling the next day. At the end of the fashion show the lead pastor’s wife came out wearing a bikini. We were all cheering her on because she looked great. She stood at the end of the runway shaking and grabbed the microphone. As she spoke, the mood of the room dramatically shifted. She said she would never wear a bikini in public because her body is for her husband alone and other men looking at her would cause them to sin. The sadness and guilt her voice conveyed sobered all of us. We all vowed we would never wear a bikini again and from here on out it was modest, one piece bathing suits for us.

Looking back at this experience, I recognize quite a few issues I want to address. First, teaching young Christian girls that we are not only responsible for our own relationship with Christ, but also the relationship of all men feels wrong to my spirit and isn’t even biblical. Second, teaching us to be ashamed of our body’s natural shape and covering it in baggy clothing so men won’t sin when they look at us is detrimental to both men and women. The detriment to a young girl’s self-esteem because she has strict guidelines reinforced with guilt around dressing herself leads her to thinking there is something “wrong” or “bad” about her body. This also perpetuates the lack of accountability for men, as they grow up thinking they can’t control their sexual being so they don’t even try, placing the responsibility on women. Why do you think the question “well what was she wearing?” asked in the case of a woman’s rape comes up so often? (This thinking comes from the common misconception that rape is an act of uncontrollable sexual urges, not a man exercising an intentional act of power.) These innocent teachings have further reaching effects on society than we think.

Lastly, I want to address what the pastor’s wife shared with the group, particularly her comment on her body being her husband’s. True, our bodies are not our own, they are a gift from God. 1 Corinthians 6: 19 says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” All God asks in return is that we treat our body respectfully. I don’t know about you, but I see nothing in that verse about a woman’s body being owned by a man. A woman’s body is not to be owned by a significant other no matter what their marital status is, just like a man’s body is not to be owned by a significant other. Language of possession and ownership in romantic relationships needs to be struck from the dialogue of Christianity and replaced with the language of respect.

Since I’m not the gatekeeper of heaven and hell I can’t say for sure, but I’m relatively certain if you wore a bikini you won’t be sending three men plus yourself into eternal damnation. With bikini season around the corner, take some time to reflect on the way you view your body. Do you treat it with respect? Do you own it? Do you love your body? Or have you given away that privilege to someone else? I say as a Christian woman, we unburden ourselves of the responsibility for our brother’s sin. We have enough to do. Like bikini shopping.

 

Sarah is graduating with her undergraduate degree as a psychology major with a pre-law concentration and minor in women’s studies in 2017. She has accepted a full ride scholarship to law school and is expecting to pursue prosecutorial work. Outside of the classroom, she serves as a Resident Assistant, plays on the championship lacrosse team, and also serves as president of Women’s Circle—the feminist student group that she helped to establish and for which she continues to lead discussion and events.

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Categories: authority, Bible, Body, Consent, Gender and Sexuality, Popular Culture, shopping

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12 replies

  1. Thanks for sharing a horrific experience. You say that what you were taught is not Biblical. It is however, standard Christian teaching from the time of Augustine forward, if not earlier. See Rosemary Radford Ruether’s classic paper presented at the AAR in 1972 titled, “St Augustine’s Penis.” https://books.google.gr/books?id=a0NJAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=Rosemary+Radford+Ruether+%2B+St+Augustine%27s+Penis&source=bl&ots=Po8g5S7fcD&sig=FnggXqixynYjVuyLPH0KDKjxe7M&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjjrdKD3fbTAhVBUlAKHW0EDqUQ6AEIJDAA#v=onepage&q=Rosemary%20Radford%20Ruether%20%2B%20St%20Augustine%27s%20Penis&f=false

    For those uncertain, “non-denominational” in the US usually means a new church formed around the “truth of scripture” and salvation through Jesus, what some call evangelical or fundamentalist.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I attended a non-denominational, co-ed, Christian boarding school for two years of high school. One Saturday afternoon all of us (female students) were required to “model” every outfit we owned in front of the women faculty. They decided on each outfit. Was a sweater too tight? Did a blouse have too low a neckline? Was a skirt too short or “revealing?” Did the outfit present a modest appearance? The fashion show was accompanied by one of the women faculty members (close to tears) explaining how devastated she would be if any one of “her girls” were to be responsible for causing the boys to sin.

    Patriarchy infests all our institutions. And yet, for years I believed that God spoke within that framework. Pfft….

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post! Horrifying to know this not-at-all gospel is still being preached. When I was a Quaker (in the 1980s, early 1990s) our yearly meeting had a group of people who wanted to bring Friends back to their narrow idea Christianity and Quakerism, which included alluring female body parts, like ankles, being hidden (for the sake of men who would be filled with lust at the sight). They were mostly my age, late 20s, early 30s. I remember having a conversation with one man. I was wearing a tube top. I recall saying, you mean I shouldn’t wear a tube top in 90 degree heat because you can’t control yourself? I was also, at the time, part of a group of women who were exploring the goddess. In that same conversation, he asked me about the orgies I must be reveling in. Orgies!? I said. How come no one invited me!

    Esther, when I was in high school, the administration made a rule that girls must wear bras. I have not worn one since.

    As for bathing suits, one piece or two, having cold wet material touching any part of my breasts has always felt uncomfortable. I vote for topless at least. Skinny dipping is best, But if you look good in and like bikinis (which tend to fall off during body surfing) enjoy shopping for bikinis and wear them with pride!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes! If I sunbathed topless near a lake in Oklahoma, I’m sure angry people would call over a cop to call me indecent and bring me in. In contrast, on the beaches of Spain, it started to seem a strange contrast when a man and woman walked together and the woman wasn’t also bare and free to the sea. Swimming in the oceans with nothing on my flesh felt communal and sacred. But I know we all have different experiences that makes other experiences emotionally accessible or not.

      I know what you mean about body surfing. Thank you.

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  4. Culture and control, I remember the male version of the talk, thanks for stepping out and sharing.

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  5. Your post gives me hope for the younger generation of women. Yes, you own your body!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My first reaction to your post was “Oh, that is soooo 1950s!” I’m probably twice your age, and I grew up (Calvinist and Republican) in St. Louis, a teenager in the 50s. You and I are both apparently escapees from the same body jail. Hooray! Yes, indeed, you give us hope that we can own our bodies and not be responsible for the stupid things adolescent men of all ages do. You give me, too, hope for the younger generation of women. Attagirl!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. One response from a friend about the silliness of women’s responsibility for men’s thoughts was a sharply sarcastic: “Oh the poor dears!” I wonder what Elizabeth’s “Maude” would say!

    “Saint” Augustine is hardly a good example of sexual responsibility!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maeve would say something about women’s sovereignty for sure. In Magdalen Rising there is a chapter where two of Maeve’s eight mothers attempt sex education, their most salient point being, “a woman belongs to herself!”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh “non-denomenational” church. It sounds so innocuous and freeing, doesn’t it? I’m glad Carol described it for us.

    Like

  9. Isn’t that why some Moslem women are covered from head to toe with only their eye exposed. When did God say this? Interpretation of a male dominated society to control women and deprived them of owning their own body. Did they teach you to “pluck out your eyes” too. Jesus loves us equally, he made us in His own image, why would He make us feel ashamed of our feminine beauty? I am so glad I can think for myself and will never accept this indoctrination that men are in charge of every aspect of our lives, really. This made me furious, remembering and thinking about the deacon in our church, who was such a great Christian, he “raped” me at 17 for looking for looking so pretty. God does not have second class children .

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  10. I understand your point however you said yourself our bodies belong to God and no one else so therefore we cant own it. We can only respect it and treat well just like the people in our lives.

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