Thoughts on the Swimsuit Modesty Debate
- Peyton Garland iBelieve Editor
- 2023 24 May
Approaching thirty, I am finally in a place where I find comfort in the physical body God granted me. Rather than fad diets, endless HIIT workouts, and constant steps on the scale, I now know the beauty in balance.
There’s joy in eating fruits and vegetables, natural nutrients God gives us through the ground, but there is also a simple splendor in enjoying a slice of cheesecake with friends. It’s healthy to have a regular fitness routine. But, sometimes, a walk with your grandmother around the quiet neighborhood is just as restorative.
Nonetheless, bathing suits still make me fidget. Just last weekend, I bought my swim attire for the summer season. Honestly, I dreaded the event because it’s difficult to find a bathing suit that is both tasteful by modest terms and tasteful for style. It feels as though there’s a constant sacrifice: giving up your convictions or surrendering to a style that’s anything but aesthetically appealing.
After scouring the racks for something that met in the middle, I discovered a simple two-piece bathing suit. The material is embossed with vertical stripes, though the colors remain solid. The top is black, fitting similar to a sports bra with a standard crew neck, and the high-waist bottoms are a stonewash blue.
I feel rather comfortable, dare I say pretty, in this swimsuit—which is an odd feeling. Perhaps I find it strange to have a small celebration over this purchase victory because swimsuits have been nothing but a debate of virtue in the church culture and Christian-school-kid sphere I come from.
Showing up to a teenage pool party, the general thought patterns (with my Southern diction) were as follows:
How dare she wear a bikini… too bad her momma never raised her better.
Lord, have mercy. That poor girl is still wearing her faded one-piece… it’s a shame that pink floral pattern is five years old.
Ahhh, she’s in a tankini… the happy medium.
But is there a happy medium? Most of life, per biblical standards, is black or white. Things are wrong or right. So what of the swimsuit debate? What is modesty? What is holy? Is gray space allowed? Who is good by means of choosing honorable pool-party wear?
Let’s take a look:
Genesis 3:6 is the demise of mankind, the moment Adam and Eve allowed havoc to creep into the earth and the hearts of everyone to follow. But the first aspect of their new sinful nature that they noticed was their nakedness. Genesis 3:7 says, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
Eden’s original plan was never to clothe the human body. God made it, so it was good. But, sin takes beauty and twists it into sinful folly to lead people astray. Such is the curse of nudity in a fallen world. And, as a cruel result, we are plagued with pornography, sex trafficking, adultery, eating disorders, and the tragic list runs on.
Instead of seeing the naked body as a perfect creation of God, it is now a source of shame, something that we love to cover up or beat down until it fits a certain size. Or it is a source of lust, something that we expose for the world to see. Neither is healthy; neither is holy.
Neither leads us to investigate the righteous purpose God had in mind all along.
So how do we connect ancient Scripture to modern-day beach clothes? Where do we draw the line of this-bathing-suit-is-sinful?
Well, to find the line in the sand, we need to know Who draws the line.
Of course, we can’t find a New Testament red text that speaks directly to swimsuit honor. However, on the topic of modesty, there’s no greater response to glean than Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery.
John 8:3-5 says, “the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’”
Many Christian leaders believe that since this woman was quite literally caught in the act of adultery, the Pharisees likely drug her into the streets as she was—unclothed. Both her soul and body were exposed to a group of men who found sick pleasure in this public parade of patronizing.
Yet, the Pharisees drug this woman to a man who looked at her differently.
This man’s eyes weren’t fueled with fury like the Pharisees, nor were they sick with lust like any other man who saw her clamoring through the streets. His eyes weren’t hungry for anything cruel or sensual. No, His eyes were simply kind.
The Pharisees were begging for Jesus to confirm their judgment, hoping to twist His loving methods into anything hypocritical. But instead, He writes in the sand.
“This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:6-9)
We aren’t sure what He wrote in the sand. Some speculate He started listing the details of the Pharisees’ sins while others say He might have spelled out the specific laws regarding adultery. We simply don’t know. But, we can surmise what He meant, either way, by the words He spoke not to the Pharisees but to the woman.
Once all the Pharisees were forced to leave, Jesus was left alone with the woman. Her life was no secret to Him. He knew who she’d been with and why. Yet, He knew the law; He knew that she knew the gravity of her sin. In short, she was guilty, and Christ was the rightful judge. But despite what He knew of Moses’ law, given by His Father, He fulfilled the law in a new way:
“Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (John 8:10-11).
Andrew Klavan’s book, The Truth and Beauty, reveals a simple thought on these verses that I’d never rendered, despite nearly two decades of Christian education. Klavan calls the reader to realize that Christ was the sinless one, the one without sin. When He asked her who condemned her, in theory, He had every right to say it was Him. He could have stoned her. He could have forced her soul to suffer. But He didn’t choose those methods.
Rather, He chose to forgive her, and He commanded her to leave her sin behind.
What I find so endearing about our Savior is He forgave this woman before she even asked for forgiveness. Perhaps she wasn’t even repentant; she was simply caught and now frightened. Yet, despite her shame or, perhaps, her search for fulfilled lust, Christ offered Himself as the ultimate fulfillment. She no longer needed to feel the weight of her sinful life, nor did she need to pursue other men to fill the void in her soul.
His forgiveness, His role as God in the flesh, was the answer. And such is the answer to the swimsuit debate.
Whether a woman is wearing a head-to-toe body suit or string bikini, we need to allow our thoughts, our words, and our actions to reflect the needs of the souls of the women wearing the swimsuits. Perhaps she struggles with shame, is afraid her body is unworthy of presentation, or fearful God will be angry if she wears anything more revealing. Or maybe she’s showing off the best she has hoping someone will finally notice her and love her and make her feel like she has somewhere to belong.
It doesn’t matter if you’re helping your daughter find a swimsuit that covers everything up, or you’re covering every bit of cellulite you can, the answer to what a woman should or shouldn’t wear isn’t our question to answer. The only solution we need to offer is, “I don’t judge you, but let me show you Who frees you from shame.” “I understand you want to be loved, but let me introduce you to Someone who will love you flawlessly.”
Remember, we were never made to create the laws. We were only called to live them through the love Christ fulfilled. So, as we address any hot-button subject, let’s lead with love.
After all, it’s our soul's sole calling:
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
Photo Credit: ©Margot Pandone/Unsplash
Peyton Garland is an author and coffee shop hopper who loves connecting people to grace bigger than expected. Follow her on Instagram @peytonmgarland and check out her latest book, Tired, Hungry, & Kinda Faithful, to discover how you can not only love God but like Him too.