Swimwear for women has a type of myth surrounding it in the LDS culture — what is and is not modest is a common question.
Ultimately, Church handbooks should be read and followed and everyone should decide individually what type of swimwear to wear, but the BYU public contains mixed feelings about this semi-hot button issue.
While answers to the question of which bathing suits for women are modest and which ones are not are subjective, they provide interesting points of view which add to the range of varied opinions on campus.
According to the Church’s Web site, people are counseled to dress modesty to show respect to themselves and to God.
“The way you dress sends messages about yourself to others and often influences the way you and others act; you should dress in such a way as to bring out the best in yourself and those around you,” the website states.
Page eight of “For the Strength of Youth” also warns against immodest dressing.
“If you wear an immodest bathing suit because it’s ‘the style,’ it sends a message that you are using your body to get attention and approval, and that modesty is not important,” the pamphlet says.
According to the booklet, immodest clothing for women includes short shorts, tight pants, off-the-shoulder, low-cut and revealing clothes.
Extremes in clothing, appearance and behavior are also listed as immodest.
“Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language and behavior,” the Church says. “If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead we seek to ‘glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20).’”
Scott Wall, a sophomore majoring in business, said he doesn’t have a problem with women wearing bikinis.
“The girl should wear what she is most comfortable wearing,” he said. “There is a point when women’s bathing suits are too extreme, however. Women need find their own line of appropriateness when it comes to swimsuits.”
Elinor Wood, an open major at BYU, has an opinion similar to Wall’s.
“Deciding what bathing suit to wear is a personal choice,” she said. “I am OK with wearing tankinis and most one pieces, but I know a lot of guys who get uncomfortable with girls wearing revealing swim suits.”
Wood said she is not concerned with women who wear two pieces, but would never wear one herself.
“I don’t feel comfortable,” she said. “I know a lot of people who say it’s not a big deal to see girls wearing bikinis. People see it so frequently and so often, they just don’t care.”
Wood said she does not look down on girls for wearing two piece bathing suits; rather she is impressed with their boldness.
Being a Church member, there is a definite level of responsibility when it comes to modesty, Wood said.
“It’s important to recognize the standards,” she said. “It’s more important to stick to these standards. Just because friends are wearing immodest swim suits, doesn’t mean you have to.”
Wood said she thinks women justify wearing revealing bathing suits too often.
“The standards are there for a reason,” she said. “Girls might not think it’s a big deal, but guys think differently about modesty, even if they don’t admit it. It’s important to be seen for more than what you look or dress like. One of the reasons the standards exist is to keep women from becoming ‘commoditized.’”
Wayne Iu, a marketing major, said women should not be too extreme in their bathing suit choices.
“Your body needs to be covered,” he said. “However, some people say ‘you can’t wear this or that,’ and that is not necessarily true. God gives everyone agency to choose.”
Iu said he likes fashion and apparel, but said not every trend should be adopted.
“Some trends aren’t bad to follow,” he said. “But, there are some that need to be avoided. Bathing suit choices should be the individual girl’s judgment. She should ignore what people think about her and focus on how she feels about herself.”
While Iu said he thinks women should cover their bodies, he said he doesn’t feel uncomfortable around women who wear bikinis.
“The thing that is awkward is seeing a bunch of guys stare at girls in bikinis,” he said. “I realize this is common, even when girls are not wearing swim suits and are just wearing their street clothes guys stare at them, it’s natural.”
Buffie Chau, a civil engineering major, agrees with Wood on the bathing suit issue.
“I personally feel uncomfortable in bikinis and only wear one pieces,” she said. “I feel modest that way. I don’t like showing off my body.”
Chau said she thinks this issue is about free agency.
“We are given guidelines and follow them to our discretion,” she said. “If girls feel like they are being modest wearing bikinis, then that’s their decision.”
Chau said she knows guys who get uncomfortable when they see women in bikinis.
“Some guys freak out,” she said. “It really differs among people though. It’s relative to their experiences and the climate they grew up in. If you didn’t grow up in the Church, it’s likely you aren’t as uncomfortable with this issue. People who grew up around beaches are used to seeing people in bikinis, so they are more lax about their opinion.”
Courtney Anderson, a senior majoring in public health, said she feels comfortable wearing two-piece bathing suits.
“There are different types of people who wear these types of bathing suits,” she said. “There are people who wear bikinis who flaunt themselves to get attention and there are others who wear them because it is what they feel most comfortable in or just what is practical to swim in. I don’t like wearing bikinis to flaunt my body. I never walk around wearing only that, I always put on a cover-up or towel.”
Anderson said wearing a two-piece bathing suit is wrong when you have an immature attitude about it.
“It all depends on a person’s attitude about why they are wearing the suit,” she said. “We are expected to be modest, but modesty, unfortunately, means something different to everyone. I think you can still be modest and wear a two-piece. If you are married and you are with your husband, for instance, I don’t see a problem. If you are looking to attract people by the swim suit you wear, that is really shameful to God, not only because it detracts you from having the spirit, but because you are attracting people who only care about your outward appearance.”
To read more about what the Church says about modesty visit lds.org/study/topics/modesty.