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Great summer cover-up: Modest swimwear showing less skin

CM 05/08/2021

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In the early 2000s, before the modest swimwear industry existed, I took my two daughters to a women’s only swim at a Passover hotel. We were astonished to see women in the water in full-length, fancy Shabbat robes. They were certainly modest, covered from neck to wrist to ankle, but they could hardly move, let alone actually swim, wearing such waterlogged garments.
Granted, the full-length robes were extreme, but lots of other women were wearing oversized cotton T-shirts on top of traditional bathing suits, either for increased sun protection or because they simply wanted more coverage. Today, more than a dozen years after the establishment of the modest swimwear industry in Israel, women of all shapes, sizes and religions have access to options that allow them to get back in the water while baring less skin.
Furthermore, the trend to cover up in the sun while enjoying water activities has spread to men and boys. On a typical day at a public pool in Israel today, it wouldn’t be unusual to see up to half the men and boys wearing swim tops that cover their entire torsos.

Sun Protection

Dr. Eve Finkelstein, originally from Melbourne, Australia, is a popular dermatologist in Beit Shemesh. She elaborated on the medical importance of coverage in the sun.
“It is common knowledge that sun exposure causes skin cancer and we recommend never becoming burned in the sun; we recommend wearing protective clothing. The natural skin color in the Middle East is dark. The sun is too strong for Europeans who will have a high incidence of skin cancer if exposed to the Middle Eastern sun. European Australians have the same issue and have been wearing protective swimsuits since the 1980s. Sunscreen washes off and is harmful to marine life, so you should cover as much as possible with clothing.”
While critical for preventing skin cancer, according to Finkelstein, wearing modest swimwear increases the need for vitamin D supplementation. “Europeans must take supplements of vitamin D because, without sun exposure, they will become deficient in this important vitamin that is normally produced in the skin when it is exposed to the sun.”

Jewish Women Speak

Ruth Rogers of Ma’aleh Adumim estimates that she has been dressing modestly at the beach and pool for 15 years. “I’ve always found it excellent for those with body image issues – it helps reshape the body.”
Until last year, she opted for a cotton T-shirt that covered her knees and elbows on top of a regular one-piece bathing suit. Last year, she invested in some modest swimwear. “The first option was obviously much cheaper,” Rogers noted, “but also the T-shirt was just a T-shirt, not necessarily meant for swimming.”
Commenting on the cost of her new swimwear, she said, “I love the new suit, but it is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing, I can’t see myself paying that amount of money again!”
Rogers points out that, while modest swimwear is common and well-accepted in Israel, “the only times when I felt self-conscious was when I went outside Israel. I felt that wherever I was here, in Israel, people would understand and accept my choice of clothing, while outside Israel it was standing out and making people wonder what’s wrong with me.”
Rakhel Nehari who lives on a yishuv near Jerusalem has been wearing modest swimwear for two years. For 20 years prior to that, she wore shorts and a T-shirt over a traditional bathing suit. Having made the switch, Nehari said she feels “more comfortable walking around and swimming. Before I would hide away or skip getting wet at all cost. I chose and prefer the knee-length leggings with the tunic top. It’s light, sporty and still modest. It hides everything I want to keep hidden.”
Like Rogers, Nehari shared that modest swimwear raises more eyebrows outside of Israel. “Outside of Israel people would ask or look because these options are not available everywhere. Those who want to cover up wear regular clothes over their suits. Some pools and water parks do not allow regular clothing in the water which means someone will come to ask about what you are wearing. They normally accept it if you explain it to them. In Israel, no one looks or asks. It’s very normal here to dress more modestly, even if you are not religious. It’s about personal comfort.”
Tour guide Debra Nussbaum Stepen who lives in Rehavia says that with modest swimwear, “I can swim anywhere! Like at a hotel where there is no separate swimming. I can do lots of sports with it. I can go running, boogie boarding, surfing. [It’s] great for an active lifestyle. You can spend the whole day in it and then go out afterward without changing in a gross changing room or bathroom.”
Modest swimwear has given her the confidence to be in the water anywhere, even outside of Israel. “I sometimes felt self-conscious when swimming in a swanky pool in California or Hawaii. Now, I just don’t care anymore!” she shared.

Not Just For Jews

Muslim women and girls have a distinctive style of modest swimwear called the burkini, a humorous mash-up of burka and bikini. The burkini style features long pants matched with a loose caftan top that falls significantly below the hips. Most styles have an attached headpiece.
According to Lina AS, a Muslim woman living in Jerusalem, “Islam highly values modesty and expects both men and women to dress modestly. According to religion, girls are expected to wear the hijab (headscarf) and wear modest clothing when they get their period.
“However, Muslims around Jerusalem don’t follow that rule closely and many either don’t wear the hijab at all or wear it in later years when they feel convinced by the idea behind it. I personally only started wearing the hijab at age 20 during the summer, for religious and personal reasons. I really wanted to keep my lifestyle as is and not give up on anything I enjoy, and one of those things was beach trips and swimming in general. So I immediately started looking for alternatives to my previous clothing pieces and chose burkinis for the beach. I feel it’s important to note that I can still wear my regular one-piece swimsuits among other women when in a private pool.”
Lina surmised that, “any woman who wears a hijab and looks for a swimsuit eventually goes for a burkini, or just baggy pants and a long shirt,” although she added that, “more religious Muslim women, who strictly follow Islam’s idea of modest wear being something that doesn’t describe the shape of the body, refuse to wear burkinis because the water causes the fabric to stick to the body, thus making it less modest. I agree with their claim to an extent, but personally, I refuse to give up swimming in the sea, so wearing a burkini is fine by me.
“The biggest pro in my opinion is protection from the sun. I have very sensitive skin and have always struggled with keeping up with reapplying sunscreen. Wearing a burkini is essentially like wearing a wetsuit, much better for the skin. It is also somewhat more modest than regular swimsuits. I support everyone in their choice of swimwear. I personally wore one-pieces at some point as well, but I feel more comfortable covered up and do not feel self-conscious at the beach. Don’t get me wrong, the burkini still gets stares from people, but at least I know it’s because it’s strange or unusual, not because my body or bikini looks a certain way.
“The main con for me is keeping the headpiece on in face of the waves, otherwise the actual burkini is secure enough not to worry about anything showing. It is not necessarily movement constricting, both in and out of the water, but it does make swimming more challenging; I think it creates more resistance in the water and if one were to swim competitively, then a baggy burkini would be a no-go.”
Lina is supportive of non-Muslim women wearing burkinis as an alternative to “cotton T-shirts or long sleeve shirts over their swimsuits to protect their shoulders and back. I personally think they are a great option for people looking to protect their skin from sunburn.” She added, “in recent years there’s been a surge in burkini popularity and many companies are now coming up with stylish cuts and colors that blend well with other swimsuits.”
Modest swimwear is even available for Christians. One such business was started by two Christian women in the US who were motivated by “learning about God’s standards for modesty.” They were inspired to create a small business called Modestly Yours Swimwear for women and girls. Their website (modestlyyoursswimwear.com/about-us) includes verses from Christian scripture that originally spurred the pair to create modest swimwear for the Christian community.

Two Popular Israeli Vendors

Sara Wolf and Daniella Peyser Teutsch are the co-founders of HydroChic (hydrochic.com). In business since 2007, they “sell to women worldwide, from the USA and Canada to women in countries like Dubai, Germany, England, Israel, Australia and New Zealand. We have plenty of women who purchase our products not because of religious convictions, but rather for comfort and the feeling of confidence that having more coverage provides.”
HydroChic started when Wolf had “an epiphany one day on the Jersey shore. Daniella and I wanted to go into business together and we wanted to do something different. There on the shore, I looked around and saw myself and my friends wearing sloppy T-shirts and long shorts so that we would be covered when swimming in mixed company. I thought to myself that if we were all willing to wear these getups, then if Daniella and I offered a more fashionable version, there would definitely be a market for our products. I called Daniella from the beach, and said, ‘I’ve got it! I know what we should create, a chic and modest swimwear line, similar to our T-shirts but made for water and not as tight as what surfers wear. We aren’t 18 anymore; we are moms.’ The idea resonated right away with Daniella, as she and her redhead kids are light-skinned and freckled and always careful of the sun.
“We sell to women of all denominations. Every woman defines modesty in her own way, so we created a line that would speak to a vast audience. From our longer-sleeved swim shirts to sleeveless designs, from skorts to extra-long skirts, swim pants, leggings and shorts, one can find tops and bottoms that work for every woman.”
Wolf and Teutsch commented, “We are a women-owned company, and so we feel confident creating and designing for other women. Throughout the years we have received lots of feedback from our customers and we incorporate their suggestions in our designs. Our designs include lots of details that we think women would like, such as different types of swim bras and hidden pockets in the swim shirts and bottoms.”
MARCI RAPP founded MarSea Modest Swim & Casualwear (marseamodest.com), a play on her first name, in 2010. Rapp was helped by taking a course from MATI, The Center for Entrepreneurship in Jerusalem, in 2009. “We benefited from the help of a MATI mentor who helped us find a pattern maker, a sewing factory and a fabric source,” she shared.
Like HydroChic, she sells to “women customers all over the world – mostly in the US.” She also has customers from Canada, the UK, Australia, Scandinavia, Russia, France and Iceland. Rapp added, “We also sell in Israel online, at our warehouse in Kochav Ya’acov and via our distributors in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Efrat, Modi’in, Jerusalem and Karnei Shomron.” MarSea Modest customers include women who identify as haredi (ultra-Orthodox), secular, Christian, Muslim and everything in between.
“Women choose modest swimwear for many different reasons,” shared Wolf and Teutsch. “Many because of religious convictions, but many others because of an innate sense of modesty not connected to religion. Some women seek sun protection; others want body coverage to hide more of their body than a traditional bathing suit would. Usually, girls wear modest swimwear for similar reasons – religious conviction of the family and sun protection.”
Rapp added that even among women who cover for religious reasons, there are variations in what styles are considered appropriate. For example, some customers require a skirt bottom and others are comfortable in longer-length shorts. In addition, she said, “Some cover due to social pressure. Some cover up medical scarring or weight gain. Some cover up for personal modesty from prying eyes or just not feeling confident to wear a traditional bathing suit that shows cleavage and thighs and more.”
For all its benefits, modest swimwear is not cheap. Wolf explained, “Modest swimwear uses a lot of material. Much of our swimwear material is sourced from Europe and we use the highest quality fabrics for all our designs. We offer a line of chlorine-proof swimwear and a line of silky swimwear made of nylon-lycra that is made for beach and lake swimming.
“Swimwear, in general, can be expensive. There are bikinis that sell for $120 [NIS 387]. Our swimwear is not inexpensive, but well worth the cost. Our customers have our products for years, which from a business perspective, actually is too long!”
SPEAKING TO the relatively high cost of modest swimwear, Rapp added, “We manufacture in Israel, not China, but the cost here I think is reasonable. However, the cost to make a bikini in China doesn’t compare to the amount of fabric used to make modest swimwear. The high-quality fabric we use is chlorine resistant, breathable, UV50+ SAFE, lightweight when wet, dries quickly and most importantly feels comfortable to wear.
“When I’m dealing with customers who I feel cannot afford modest swimwear, I try to work with them to see if I can outfit them for less. Sometimes I have manufacturers’ clearance items – not necessarily mine, sometimes old stock odds and ends. If the customer has had some kind of tragedy, then I like to help when I can. I even give away swimwear to widows of terror victims, where cancer struck a family, where a house burned down, where someone has been so helpful in the community. It’s a way I can do tzedakah [be charitable].”
Wolf and Teutsch shared about the human side of their business. “When we first started, we had a woman who bought a top and pair of shorts to wear to a water park. Her husband was skeptical of her wearing such an outfit as he felt she would stand out. She did stand out, but in a way they had not expected. The lifeguards at this water park wore tops similar to hers and they all complimented her on her outfit. People stopped her to ask for directions and the time – something that had never happened to her before. She felt that they could approach her because she was more modestly dressed than the average water-park swimmer.
“Over the years we have received numerous emails from women who have thanked us for literally changing their lives. We have had women tell us that they have not gone swimming for over 20 years and now they are back in the pool or at the beach. This is very gratifying to us.”
Rapp, who prides herself on offering personal service, has dozens of stories of uplifting interactions with customers who send her photos of them wearing MarSea swimwear at the beach, under waterfalls, kayaking and more. She especially enjoys it when “customers tell me they feel so comfortable going to a pool or beach now with modest swimwear.”
Her granddaughters all ask for MarSea swimwear and she quipped, “I’m on the good side of my three daughters-in-law as they all are gifted MarSea outfits.
“I love what I do. I feel so blessed that besides parnassa [livelihood], I can help women feel good about themselves. I really feel that my customers feel grateful for what I do. Some tell me it’s such a big mitzvah; that makes me feel really good. Also when I go to the beach and I see one of my MarSea outfits, [I feel] proud.” 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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