Jessica Rey, or How to Turn a History of the Bikini Into Objectification Victim-Blaming

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In a video for what appears to be a TED competitor called Q, one-season Power Rangers actress-turned-designer Jessica Rey offers what amounts to a sales pitch for modesty, and her line of “modest” swimsuits.

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The talk starts with an interesting history of the bikini, detailing how women have been kept, at various times, from wearing revealing bathing suits. And gives tidbits of bikini-related slut-shaming. For example, we have 1957 Modern Girl magazine: “No girl with tact or decency would ever wear such a thing.” Also, guards at the beach would kick women off if their suits didn’t cover enough skin. Some conservatives right now is saying, “Seems legit.” I actually experienced this a little myself. At church camp two-piece suits were forbidden, and girls and guys went swimming at different times (I went swimming at no time because no swimwear can prevent me from burning to a crisp).

Rey begins the sales portion with a Princeton study which showed how the male brain reacts to seeing people in different amounts of clothing. Basically, science indicates that some men’s brains actually do literally objectify women when they wear bikinis, but not when they wear “regular” clothing. Objectification of both sexes is a serious problem. It’s treating a person as a thing, depriving them of their dignity. To say someone has dignity, you’re saying they have a right to be valued and receive ethical treatment. Depriving anyone of these rights, for any reason, is and should be unacceptable.

This is surely not the kind of power that women were searching for. The power to be treated as an equal, to be seen as in control and to be taken seriously. It seems the power they’re searching for is more attainable when they dress modestly.

Actually, true equality means being taken seriously and seen as in control on the same basis as men. There are serious consequences to dealing with objectification by asking all women to change how they dress. Rey pretends to address objections by presenting modesty as the solution to objectification by quoting one middle school girl who doesn’t want to dress like a grandma. But the problems with this solution run much deeper than that. Rey says, “Modesty is about revealing our dignity.” The point of dignity is that it’s there, no matter what you’re wearing. All women have a right to be valued and receive ethical treatment, even if they’re *gasp!* naked. Asking women to change what they wear to accommodate men who would otherwise strip them of their dignity says it’s okay to make what women wear the basis upon which they grant them the right to be valued and receive ethical treatment. It’s not. Then, after we make swimwear the basis for dignity, we have to deal with the thorny question of what exactly is modest? Rey holds up Audrey Hepburn as the “inspiration” for her modest swimsuit line. What exactly makes this modest?

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Same for Taylor Swift, who’s castigated other women for their activities “on the mattress” in her songs. I’m sorry, I can’t hear your slut-shaming over your boobs screaming at me

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Blaming women because some men can’t stop objectifying them sucks enough. But then we tell them that everything rests on a test for which there’s no right answer. And let’s not forget that in so doing we put them in a double bind. If girls cover up too much, they’re frumpy and don’t care. If they wear too little, then they don’t deserve to be treated with respect. Modesty is fine as a personal choice. And it is one way to deal with apparent deficiencies in some men’s brain functioning. But as a long-term strategy, it’s really not good enough. There was a time when forcing a woman to give up her freedom to acquiesce patriarchal demands for modesty was the norm. But I would hope that the intervening years have proven that women are not objects, no matter what they wear. It’s time for modern-day men and women to recognize this and act accordingly.