The Western media’s portrayal of Muslim women is generally that of a derogative one, where our every speech,thought and action,is determined and governed by some male member or the other. Contrary to the West’s biased, stereotypical beliefs, women in the middle east, regardless of creed and nationality, are actually given more attention & respect than in any restaurant, bank, airport in the West ! We also have the comfort of Ladies only gyms (surprisingly filled with more expats than locals), one day a week allocated for beach time for women only, separate waiting lines for women at banks, government offices, and the list goes on and on.
In all respect, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a Muslim country, where I can find a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and even a beach that caters to women, so I’ve never felt the need to own a burqini. I recently moved into a new apartment, and since it’s a fairly new area in Dubai, my building was pretty empty. I was able to go to the pool, during odd hours, without worrying about bumping into anyone as I could count the number of tenants in the building. A few months have passed, and this is no longer the case. I was struck by the dilemma of debating whether I should get myself a burqini or to go hunt for a ladies-only pool within my vicinity! The only issue I’ve ever had about the burqini – yes, I know it’s not meant to be flattering – is that, it makes you look like a seal ! Yes, I said it ! I’m not saying it’s ugly – OK , maybe just a little – but I guess I’m just used to how cute a 2 piece suit looks in comparison – and yes, I shouldn’t be comparing between the two, but I can’t help it.
I do think, however, that the burqini is probably one of the most innovative solutions for modest clothing and has changed the lives of thousands of women, regardless if their Muslim or not. A lot of orthodox Jewish & Catholic women have taken to the burqini. Nigella Lawson, star chef, rocked boats all over when she stepped into Bondi beach in a burqini. Heads definitely turned, and of course the media had a frenzy with a multitude of questions and comments on how England’s finest rose could willingly don the sharia-compliant burqini !!! Lawson had 3 family members diagnosed with the big C, and her main concern for wearing the burqini was to protect her creamy complexion from the harsh rays of the Australian sun. She’s not the only celebrity that prefers the all-in-one suit, so does the pale skinned Nicole Kidman.A lot of older women have also taken to the burqini, maybe due to physical insecurities because of cellulite, ageing , or being heavier set and feel the pressure of not conforming to the perfect size & shape portrayed in fashion mags and TV sets all over.
Nigella Lawson bought her burqini from Modestly Active. The marketing director, Ismail Sacranie, said: “We set up the company in 2007 to cater for people who wanted an alternative to the swimwear that was out there, mainly for religious reasons. We didn’t really anticipate non-Muslims buying the clothing but now we have a healthy and loyal following – about 15 per cent of our client base. “For a long time, women who wanted to wear something modest while swimming didn’t have any alternative except for leggings and a T-shirt, which are not ideal because they drag you down and cling to the body.”
The creator of the burqini, Aheda Zanetti, launched the burqini in 2003 in Australia. And although its been a huge success in the Gulf, and very common in Australia , it is officially banned from a majority of public pools in France – aaaah, Sarkozy you again! The chief lifeguard’s explanation to banning the burqini from public pools in Paris, was that he was simply abiding by rules that state that all women must wear swimsuits and men must wear small trunks, not shorts, because larger items of clothing are believed to carry higher levels of bacteria.There are more chances of children contaminating the pool with their pee, as opposed to wearing a burqini ! The french really haven’t evolved much, in my opinion.
Many swimming pools do require that you wear swimming caps, as hair can clog drains, and also for hygienic reasons, yet all this fuss for a ‘burqini’. If I lived anywhere else, a burqini would be on my definite must-have list for hijaabi’s. But for now, I think I’ll just wait for summer and head to the beach on Ladies-only Mondays.