Time's Deep Bow to Islam: Hailing the Head-to-Toe 'Burqini' Swimsuit as Chic

It’s amazing how supposedly liberal and feminist publications that enjoy roasting conservative Christians will turn around and honor Islamic traditions as the latest rage. Witness Time’s promotional coverage this week of the "Burqini," the head-to-toe women’s swimsuit. If this was a Pat Robertson idea, they’d be bowled over laughing. But it’s Islamic, so it’s surprisingly chic. The front page of the Life section promoted Time’s Laura Fitzpatrick writing "The Burqini swimsuits allow women, Muslim or not, to choose comfort over conformity." Obeying Islamic dictates of modesty is not conformity? On a 90-degree day, a head-to-toe suit is the definition of comfort?

On page 50, the story’s headline was "The New Swimsuit Issue: Modest beachwear for Muslim women is taking off with secular swimmers too." Fitzpatrick began:

Move over, Tankini. Since the full-coverage swimsuit dubbed the Burqini (as in burqa plus bikini) hit the international market in January, devout Muslim women have been snapping them up. The polyester suits were designed to accord with Islamic laws that require women to dress modestly and to eliminate the risk of drowning when the yards of fabric used in traditional burqas get soaked. Now, however, non-Muslim beachgoers are getting into the full-covered swim. Whether women are worried about health, weight or the tolls of age, the Burqini offers a comfortable alternative to a skimpy two-piece or clingy maillot. [That's fashion-speak for the one-piece.]

Fitzpatrick notes that some kinds of Christians, and not just secular women, have shown interest: "Conservative Christians, cancer patients, burn victims and senior citizens, among others, have shown surprising interest." She does allow criticism late in the piece: the website ShiaChat disapproves of the suits as showing curves, feminists charge that "burqas in any form are offensive to women," and Islamic burqini designer Aheda Zanetti "has been called a terrorist online." A moderate imam in Virginia deplores the focus on whether Islamic women can wear this suit or this nail polish. But the story ends at it begins: the Burqini is chic.

Still, in this bare-it-all age of the string bikini, when young girls take wardrobe cues from Paris Hilton and body-image pressure is intense, the Burqini swimsuit is making a statement. And that's the point, the designers say: the suits allow women, Muslim or not, to choose comfort over conformity. "I know it sounds like an oxymoron," says [California Burqini wearer Shereen] Sabet. "But this is really about freedom."

By the way, the lead story in the Life section of the magazine is on American churches deciding to object to immigration laws. David Van Biema’s story is headlined: "Sweet Sanctuary: A new movement that puts undocumented aliens in protective custody may revive the religious left." When the story or trend emerges on the left, it doesn’t seem to matter how tiny it is. If the "New Sanctuary Movement" are just daring federal agents to seize eight illegal aliens inside their church walls, it’s somehow worthy of Time’s national publicity machine. The "anti-immigration" side emerges just once, so it can be dismissed:

They have drawn considerable press, but they also seem a bit packaged: focusing on eight undocumented immigrants out of 12 million allows for intense cherry-picking and hardly suggests a mass movement. An anti-immigration blogger derided NSM as a "bed-and-breakfast dog-and-pony show." Yet a closer look at the group's campaign suggests that it has both substance and significant promise.

Van Biema also pokes at the religious right for remaining silent, which "irks many Hispanic evangelicals."

Update 9:47 | Matthew Sheffield. Tim's take is exactly right here. Fitzpatrick's article is nothing more than typical newsmagazine "trendspotting," desperately trying to discern a societal trend, whether or not it even exists.

In point of fact, similarly ridiculous swimsuits (such as the "skirted" models from Wholesome Wear) have targeted non-muslim women for quite a while now. They haven't caught on at all. But since it's primarily fundamentalist Christians who would wear such suits, don't expect to see any flattering features on them in Time or Newsweek.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis