There’s a generation that knows her as the white Power Ranger or soap opera character, but actress Jessica Rey has a new crusade that’s getting some recent viral attention — a campaign for modest swimwear.
Rey’s line called Rey Swimwear with the slogan “Who Says It Has to Be Itsy Bitsy” launched in 2008 with vintage-inspired swimsuits manufactured out of Orange County, California.
Q, a Christian group, recently featured a speech by Rey — The Evolution of the Swimsuit: Can Modesty Make a Comeback — that spurred viral discussion in the days that followed.
Rey covers the pre-bikini “bathing costume” era and the origins of the bikini itself. The bikini was invented in 1946 by Frenchman Louis Reard, naming it after the atomic bomb testing site and advertising it as the world’s tiniest swimsuit.
Although many women wear bikinis now, Rey says that historically they didn’t catch on right away in the United States, with some beaches having guards to measure sizes of swimsuits.
“It’s no wonder that the girl in the song was afraid to come out of the water,” Rey said, referencing the lyrics of the 1960 Brian Hyland song “Itsty Bitsy Tinnie Winnie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
It was within this decade though, that the bikini gained popularity.
“Last year alone, spending on the bikini totaled $8 billion,” Rey said. “The popularity of the bikini has been attributed to the power of women, not the power of fashion.”
At this point, Rey examines the “power that wearing the bikini brings.” Rey references studies that found brain scans showing little activity in the part of the brain associated with considering another’s feelings and the most activity in the area of the brain that also lights up when viewing tools.
“A Princeton professor said, ‘it’s as if they are reacting to these women as if they are not fully human. It is consistent with the idea as if they were responding to these woman as objects, not people,’” Rey quoted.
“So, it seems that wearing a bikini does give a woman power — the power to shut down a man’s ability to see her as a person but rather as an object,” Rey said. “This is certainly not the kind of power women were searching for.”
Rey says that based on studies, it seems the goals women are trying to achieve — equality, respect, etc. — are better met when dressed modestly. But the very word “modesty,” she said, is “often met with disdain.”
Rey admits that she too had these thoughts about modesty at first and became especially frustrated when she decided to stop wearing bikinis and couldn’t find an attractive one-piece. That’s when she decided to design her own.
“My goal is to disprove the age-old notion that when it comes to swimsuits ‘less is more,’ and that you can’t dress modestly without sacrificing fashion,” Rey said.
“We need to teach girls that modesty isn’t about covering up our bodies because they’re bad,” Rey added later. “Modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves, it’s about revealing our dignity.”
Here’s Rey’s slightly less than 10-minute speech:
The top comment by Erin Rierson under the video states, in part:
First of all, “modesty” is, by its nature, a societal construct. In some parts of the world, for example, it is far more immodest to show the upper thighs than to show bare breasts. The dress the presenter is wearing would be considered quite immodest in many cultures around the world, and some subcultures in the United States.
I also find it highly ironic that during her talk about redefining beauty standards for the benefit of women based on research, that she is wearing shoes that have been shown in multiple studies to do physical damage to women, and primarily exist due to their perceived sex appeal. I applaud her for her ability to see and take advantage of an open niche market in the fashion world, but the introduction of her swimwear line into this discussion ultimately derails her message. Not only is she trying to sell something, she essentially is saying “see, you can still bow to the unrealistic demands of fashion while doing this other thing that a segment of society is trying to force upon you! Be modest (according to my specific definition), but remember to still fit a narrowly defined societal standard of fashion and attractiveness!” In the end, her message that appears to empower women is deceptive — she only offers to trade one form of enslavement for another.
Other commenters point out that the studies referenced by Rey might be misinterpreted in that the images of the women viewed by men had their heads cropped out and the participants were “rated as hostile sexists in the test that determined who would be part of the study.”
I think, however, that this presentation swings too far in the other direction, and I am disappointed with its message, especially when I see it in the context of a rising emphasis on modesty that also devalues women, though more insidiously. Though it is indeed objectifying to teach a woman that her value lies in wearing fewer clothes and showing off her body so as to turn on the boys around her, it is also objectifying to teach a woman that her value lies in wearing more clothes and covering up her body so as to keep the thoughts of the boys around her pure. The better message is this: wear what you want, like, and feel comfortable in, not for its effect on other people, but so that you can be happy and free as you go about doing many good things in the world. And stop judging other people for what they wear as they go about living their lives, because it’s none of your business and it’s not about you.
Not everyone is criticizing Rey’s perspective though. There is a slew of support for her appeal to modesty in the comments, and as of Monday morning, nearly all styles of Rey’s swimsuits are sold out.
“Though I went into the Spring thinking we had produced more than enough swimsuits to last through the Summer, I was caught off guard by the tremendous reaction to my talk. I want to apologize for the current lack of inventory and thank you for your patience as we fulfill the back-orders and decide when it will be realistic to open up orders on the other swimsuits,” Rey wrote on Facebook Sunday.
Check out this behind-the-scenes video from a Rey Swimwear photo shoot:
But Rey’s example isn’t the only one showing a trend toward more covered up swimwear. Open almost any women’s magazine from this spring or summer and you’re bound to see “most flattering one-piece for your figure” articles or some similar variety.
The Charlotte News-Observer recently reported on the one-piece trend as well:
Shoshanna Gruss, creator of Shoshanna clothing and swimwear, says she started designing swimwear by adding bikinis to her clothing line in 2000, but it wasn’t until around 2004 that she added a one-piece.
Demand for the one-piece suits grew gradually, and they are now big sellers, she said in a phone interview from her New York office.
“It’s just kind of comfortable and easy, and there is something about having that one-piece on – you’re not checking to make sure everything is in place,” Gruss said.[...]
Charlotte fashion blogger Kenya Hunter ( kenyaldesigns.com) says she’s always been a fan of the one-piece, and is pleased that designers are incorporating the same trends from street clothes to swimwear.
“I’m excited because you’re starting to see the fun summer trends infiltrate into the one-piece bathing suit. You can find the strapless, the one-arm, you can find it with the ruffle,” she said. “Look at some of the things that are really hot right now, like neon. We’re starting to see a lot of bathing suits in those neon colors.”
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