I love the Washington Post’s fashion critic, Robin Givhan, when she’s covering the fashion scene (she has superb taste and a quick wit) or critiquing disgusting summertime fads, such as flip-flops at the office. There is a time and a place for everything, and the time and place for flip-flops is at the pool on Sunday afternnoon.
But I hate Robin Givhan when she uses her column to preach a sermon–and by that I mean a left-wing sermon–as she did last year around this time when she cattily accused the wife and children of then-Supreme Court nominee John Roberts (a Bush appointee, of course) of snobbishly overdressing for their first public appearance, when their pastel suits were, in fact, perfect attire for a solemn state occasion in July.
Givhan’s latest column (last Friday) is also a sermon. It purports to be an article about WholesomeWear, a family-run outfit in California that manufactures modest alternatives to the kind of stuff that fills Sports Illustrated in the middle of the winter. A WholesomeWear swimsuit consists of a Spandex neck-to-knees wetsuit topped by an attached nylon dress with sleeves. Givhan thinks it’s ugly.
So do I, actually. Like Givhan, I think a tankini or a skirted one-piecer ought to be enough to satisfy the modesty qualms–or the aesthetic qualms–of older women, women with less-than-perfect figures, and women who would really rather not display practically every square inch of skin when they take a swim. But some religions demand more female cover-up, and WholesomeWear sells several thousand suits each year that respect those demands. Still, why don’t today’s manufacturers of “modest” swimwear take a cue from the “bathing dresses” of 100 years ago, which demurely covered ladies from shoulder to knee, but were actually quite flattering and, dare I say, sexy?
Good enough: But then, Givhan can’t resist mounting her feminist soapbox. The sermon theme: women at the beach shouldn’t care about society’s standards of bodily beauty, but should let it all hang out anyway, no matter how old or fat it all is:
Most women dread buying a swimsuit. The occasion is fraught with irrational feelings of inadequacy. Women often joke that they would wear a muumuu to the beach if they could. The truth is there’s nothing to stop them from doing just that. But they know the cure for their insecurity is to let go of cultural expectations and their own skewed self-image. The answer is not to hide the body but to cheer for its ability to swim laps or just sedately float — in a bit of form-fitting, aerodynamic nylon and Lycra. That’s not immodesty; that’s confidence.
In the past, the woman on the beach wearing a bikini was the aberration, the spectacle. But now, a woman in a bikini is commonplace. She spans all ages. And there is something especially compelling about an older woman wearing a two-piece swimsuit, not necessarily to display her curves but to underscore her strength.
Yes, there is something “compelling” about a woman in a bikini when she’s way past the age to start covering up. Compellingly embarrassing. There is a time and a place for everything, and the time and place for a bikini is under 50 (and in most cases under 40) unless one is in the privacy of one’s home. Givhan has absorbed the feminist gospel of “I am woman–hear me roar”–and let it override her usually sound clothes sense.