not in Primary anymore

addressing “the evolution of the swimsuit”

A video has been making the rounds of the internet, particularly in Mormon spheres, of swimsuit designer Jessica Rey speaking about “The Evolution the Swimsuit.” This post is borrowed from Stephen, who originally blogged about it (tumblr’d about it?) here. Other responses to the video can be read here and here.

There are so many problems with Jessica Rey’s discussion.

1. Rey’s first argument is a pathetic (in the literal sense of the word meaning “appealing to emotion” as in the Greek “pathos”) quotation of a song from 1960, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.” She points out that the woman in the bikini is nervous and shy and afraid to come out from behind the locker. I’ll concede that perhaps when Western women, especially in America, first found themselves able (“able” meaning they didn’t face extreme rejection or ejection from society, legal repercussions or personal violation) to wear bikinis and other body-exposing clothing in public, some of them may have been afraid or anxious. But that’s not the whole picture. First, her approach to the concept of modesty and body exposure ignores the non-Western world entirely. But more importantly, Rey fails to discuss the reasons for their anxiety. She simply tells us that a woman is shy and afraid to come out with her stomach exposed but offers no proper explanation.

Fear of body exposure has been taught culturally for thousands of years. In the AD period, the early Christian church which had an exclusively male clergy taught that “the body is a temple of God” and verses like 1 Timothy 2:9, which specifically discusses modesty of women, interpreting such scriptures in such a way that they could effectively control the bodies of women. This is not incongruous with the early Christian fear of sexuality, especially regarding women, worshiping Mary’s virginity and obsessing over the purity and innocence of women. These male-determined views of women’s bodies carried through the millennia, and women have, for thousands of years, been taught to fear their bodies. They have been taught that they are the holy and chaste ones and that men are the carnal and wicked ones, and this dichotomy of teachings places men in a position to do as they will (it is only expected as they’re evil) and places women in a position of oppression. Western women were (and remain) conditioned by a Christian-saturated culture to feel anxious and guilty when their bodies are exposed. IT is an unhealthy psychological response to a structural conditioning, and there is no argument there for her.

That said, many people are uncomfortable wearing a bikini and I don’t mean to marginalize their personal experiences. I only mean to say that many people are not uncomfortable in a bikini, and that many who are are uncomfortable because they have been taught by a male-dominated religious culture that they ought to be.

2. She mentions the empowerment of women, claiming that the bikini is not, in fact, empowering to women and irrelevantly cites the psychological response of men in case studies, saying that the bikini causes men to objectify women. Her research may be accurate, I suppose, that men do often objectify women. There are HUGE problems with this argument, though. The first problem is that to suggest that this objectification of a women in a bikini is a natural response innate to being a male is simply wrong and is frankly offensive to me. The fetishization of women’s bodies, especially such arbitrary, nonsexual areas of the body as breasts, shoulders, legs and stomachs, is a construct related again to the early Christian church’s claims over women’s bodies.

I have discussed this loads of times in the past:

“1. The brain is the most erogenous part of the body, and, though we’ve always been taught otherwise, sexuality is a primarily psychological trait, not a physical one. The physical aspects of our sexuality, ie. vaginal lubrication, penile erection, orgasm, ejaculation, etc., are effected* almost entirely by our thoughts. Wet dreams, anybody? And I’ve known people who masturbate without touching themselves. That’s a bit tangential, though.

2. Structure heavily influences psychosexuality. Nearly everything we fetishize personally—vulvae, penises, breasts, arms, necks, lips, hair, legs, feet, etc.—is the result of structural fetishization. Historically, these fetishizations have been created by religion, adopted by government (government has nearly always been theocratic) and then enforced by the state’s ideological apparatuses (family, schools, the media, reinforced by churches). Our personal fetishes are reflections of the religious establishment’s fetishes.

3. The Church (in the conceptual sense—not the Mormon Church specifically, but all religion) determines what is sexual by declaring what is forbidden to be touched and what is to be hidden from sight. Breast fetishization is not cross-cultural. Most eastern religions (Hinduism and Buddhism, for instance) don’t forbid women to show their breasts, and, in fact, much of their art includes bare breasts. The Western Church fetishized breasts by forbidding them, fetishized penises—most notably in the Great Castration—though penises do admittedly have a sexual function that may be notable depending on your assumptions and opinions regarding sexuality. The Mormon Church fetishizes women’s shoulders by insisting that they be hidden and therefore declaring them sexual.

We are taught as we grow up in the Church that we are inherently attracted to and stimulated by certain body parts, and that the Church has consequently forbidden them (cause: a body part has an erotic appeal, effect: it is therefore forbidden by Church) when in fact the opposite is true (cause: a body part is forbidden by Church, effect: it develops an erotic appeal in our psyche).

Women’s bodies have been fetishized more brutally than men’s historically, as Papacy and Apostleship have always made efforts to retain power over women, and women now want to reclaim their bodies. Their bodies are currently the possession of church and state, and they want them back. This isn’t a lewd, immodest display. It is a fight against the idea that their bodies are intrinsically lewd and immodest.”

– Me talking about stuff.

The second problem with her argument and with any argument suggesting that women have power over men’s thoughts and actions by means of their attire is a perpetuation of rape culture. To say that a woman can herself give men bad thoughts and cause them to rape her is an unhealthy social paradigm even if it is true, which it is most assuredly not.

3. She never defines modesty or recognizes that modesty is a cultural construct rather than an inherent, Platonic principle. I sort of discussed that up in 2.

4. “LITTLE GIRLS IN SEXY UNDERWEAR”? This is horrible. I suppose Rey is speaking under the erroneous notion that dressing a little girl in clothing that reveals her stomach or shoulders or legs is on par with sexualizing her. But she is wrong. In fact, the sexualization occurs not in the dressing, but rather in viewing of such dress as sexual. When we see a little girl with her shirt off and see that as wrong and immodest, we are indeed the ones sexualizing her. A little girl’s body is not sexual, and to suggest that it is is misinformed and unhealthy.

5. “We were made beautiful in His image and likeness”. That’s not exactly true, though, is it? I mean, not exactly. I personally believe that women are created in the image of a Heavenly Mother who, because of the patriarchal structure of Christianity, has been hidden from us for a long, long time.

I do believe in a god, but I don’t think God wants men to control women and I don’t think he wants either women or men to fear their bodies. If you are personally uncomfortable with the exposure of your own body, cool. But please don’t act as though you are right and people who have different comfort levels or beliefs are wrong or wicked or “immodest”.

I’m so hungry right now. Raisin Bran time.


Other thoughts from around the internet on Jessica Rey’s video:

1) The study she cites was never published, was not peer reviewed, has a sample size too small (21 male Princeton students), and didn’t actually find what she says it found. The men in the study saw pictures of women from the neck down. THIS is why their brains saw the women as objects, not because they wore bikinis. And even then, the only men who saw them that way were the ones who scored high on sexism. So a tiny minority of an already tiny sample…not generalizable…not good science. Also, to chant the cry of everyone who has ever sat through any research course “correlation does not equal causation”.

2) This woman sells swimsuits for a living, and we shouldn’t forget that no matter how much we want to rally behind a fellow one-piece suit enthusiast. She has a monetary reason to steer people toward the product she sells. This is video is a sales pitch, dressed up a little, but a sales pitch all the same. Hey, if you like her product and you want to share it, I’m all over that. I like cute swimsuits, especially if they provide good coverage and comfort. But the message is biased because she is selling something.

3. Using “modesty” to judge dignity and self-worth? Oh no. I do not think so. I am WORTH the exact same no matter how I adorn myself. So are my daughters. So is my son. So are you. If she hadn’t lost me already with bad science and the obvious sales pitch, this is the point where I became perturbed a little.

“Yes, men who scored high on sexism were more likely to view headless women in bikinis as objects. But, ladies, if we based our behavior on how sexist men might act — we still wouldn’t be voting or owning property or running corporations. So there’s that. If someone sees you as an object because of what you wear or do, be it a hoodie or a swimsuit, that’s not your fault.”

18 Responses to “addressing “the evolution of the swimsuit””

  1. Mae

    I had a very condensed version of this discussion with a coworker not two hours ago. Thanks for the validation.

  2. David

    I completely agree. The part that frustrates me most, remarkably, is not the misinformation or the bad rhetoric, but rather it’s the sales pitch. It makes me no trust her. It makes me think that rather than being misinformed with all of the points that you point out she is deliberately twisting information like a poor salesman.

    Plus, she’s a former Power Ranger. That’s sketch.

  3. Roseanna

    hahaha the phrase “natural modesty.” This is even worse than I expected after reading so many things about it.

  4. rah


    The study was published in a peer reviewed article. I am writing a analysis of the study. IT should be up on FMH today or tomorrow. Long story short. The study is fine for what it is. The irony is that its conclusions are almost exactly opposite of what people like Jessica (and other Christians citing the study) imply. It shows that only the most sexist men objectify women in bikinis! Check out FMH soon for the full low down!

      • Dominika

        Thank you, I’ve recently been seahcring for information about this subject for a long time and yours is the best I have came upon till now. But, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the source?|What i don’t realize is actually how you are now not really a lot more smartly-favored than you may be right now. You are so intelligent.

  5. Bob

    You are one crazy chick. Feminists have got to be the most annoying people out there. Not to mention that some of your ideas and points directly contradict what our prophets and other leaders have said. I’m gonna choose to listen to men chosen by God rather than an angry, argumentative and frankly quite immature girl. But thanks for your opinions.

    • Curtis Penfold

      This post was actually written by a man, not a “crazy chick” or “immature girl.”

      Not that such a thing should matter.

  6. Bob

    And who cares if her case studies or examples of rhetoric are poor? She isn’t a lawyer or a professional debater. She is just trying to get her views across. I find it interesting that she represents our church more accurately than you, as a member, do.

    • Brogan

      If her rhetoric and case studies are poor (which they are), then her argument falls apart. You attempt to excuse her argument because she is some girl “just trying to get her views across.” She isn’t; she is a highly educated, articulate woman that is making a sales pitch. I do agree with you on your last point, although I’m not sure how it helps your case that an illogical, emotionally-based argument so easily reflects the views of the LDS church in order to make a profit. Really fascinating regardless, though.

  7. Huevos Rancheros

    How odd it is that so many women are trying to say that this woman is just selling something and that modesty doesn’t really matter. That would be like saying that a Dr. Salk is just selling his Polio vaccine and his studies are just there to support it.

    She believes in modesty, reads studies about how it affects others, especially men, and then does something about it and all of you ladies and this blogger are all bent at her specifically…make it go away…boo hoo! Men need to stop getting erections and having sexual thoughts over mostly nude women because they shouldn’t think that way…wet dreams anyone? Duh when we have a wet dream it usually involves a DREAM with a partially or fully naked woman.

    • Andy

      1) Dr. Salk did not even patent his vaccine, let alone sell it. In fact, he was against the idea of making profit off of the vaccine.

      2) Jessica Rey did not understand the studies she read. The main study she cites only found objectification in men who already displayed hostile sexist attitudes (as opposed to benevolent sexism). If you start to objectify women the moment you see them in a swimsuit, maybe you should see a professional about that.

      3) You seem to be implying that wet dreams are less stimulating than real life. Please don’t tell me that you ejaculate every time you see a woman’s midriff.

      4) Here’s what I’m hearing: Women are wearing bikinis around me…make it go hoo…I can’t control myself so I need women to cover up around me! That makes for a very good excuse for rapists, but my experience as a male has shown me that I CAN control myself in these situations because I have my own BRAIN and my own AGENCY. I’m sorry but if you end up cheating on your wife with a pretty woman, it’s not her fault because she wore a bikini one day. It’s yours. Men go shirtless and wear Speedos all the time but I don’t hear women complaining. Believe it or not, they’re sexual beings too.

  8. Thomas

    God calls prophets, and those prophets do His will. I know that, and that’s what Mormon means. God and his prophets love women and do treat them as equals, better than equal actually They venerate and adore, they serve and respect. Any view of the doctrine or structure of the church being sexist is due to lack of perspective. The observation of individual members acting sexist is most likely true, but the doctrine about the structure of the church is inspired from God. I know that. Individual change is necessary -to accurately treat women how Jesus would want us to- as equally important, as respected, but the teaching of modest dressing and acting for men and women goes hand in hand with how Jesus taught. He was humble and unassuming in how he dressed and acted. He spent his whole life before he came to earth teaching us to follow his prophets no matter what they asked of us, because it’s what He is asking of us. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Sometimes He will ask us to do things that don’t look pleasant or appealing to us. That’s faith -trust in other words. If we don’t understand why, we eventually will, but we can’t assume that people needed faith in biblical times and that now times have changed. I started writing my view of modesty -I have one, and I could make some points- but I realized the truth is maybe there isn’t an argument for modesty based on the rules of logic our culture has adopted. He certainly didn’t explain tithing or fasting. He just told us it was the right thing to do, and we trust Him because of all He’s done for us and all the things He’s proved to us in our personal lives in the past. I believe that.

    • Dollie

      My problem with your reply begins with the line “God and his prophets love women and do treat them as equals, better than equal actually They venerate and adore, they serve and respect. ” This in itself is a sexist statement. God does not treat one gender above the other. Furthermore, as a woman, I do not want to be adored and served. I want the respect of being listened to, not of being told “yes, yes, climb back up on the pedestal and be quiet now” Next up, you say anyone who views the church as sexists simply lacks perspective…no, not really. That’s a very ignorant way to dismiss the writer’s beliefs. Truth is truth no matter who tells it, and the truth is that following the definition of sexist, the LDS Church is indeed sexist. Lastly, I refuse to believe every single thing the Mormon church and its leaders say are the words of God. I am capable of making decisions on my own, and to ask for an explanation is not to lack faith, it is to want to be informed.


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