The French are obsessed with the burkini – and it’s getting a little awkward | Arwa Mahdawi


HHello and welcome to the Get a Grip prize, which I just invented. The GAG ​​award is given on a case-by-case basis to a country that does an outstanding job of humbling itself on the world stage by focusing on something ridiculous while the world burns. The award honors those who seem to have lost all sense of perspective and gently urges them to try worrying about something more important.

There are many contenders for the inaugural GAG prize, but I’ve decided to give it to France. There’s a lot going on in France, but huge swaths of the population still expend embarrassing energy arguing over how much flesh you need to show to set foot in a swimming pool or public resort. The French are obsessed (OBSESSED!) with the debate over the question of appropriate swimsuits and it’s very cringeworthy.

Specifically, the French put their culottes on in a twist on burkinis. The head-to-toe swimsuit, most commonly associated with Muslim women, was banned in several French cities a few years ago. This ban was strictly enforced and appears to have been extended to anyone wearing more clothing than the state deems strictly necessary. In 2016, for example, armed French police made headlines when they forced a Muslim woman on the beach in Nice to remove some of her clothes and issued her with a ticket stating that she was not wearing “a held respecting good morals and secularism”. As any good layman knows, the way you show good morals is with a little sideboob.

Burkinis have kind of disappeared from the headlines due to more pressing issues such as the global pandemic and the war in Ukraine. I regret to announce that they are back in the news because, last month, the city of Grenoble decided to allow people to bathe in burkinis. A backlash followed this common-sense decision. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the green light for the burkini was “the way Islamist fundamentalists take power”. (I must keep these fundamentalists at bay by persecuting any woman who wants to wear long sleeves to bathe.) Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called the Grenoble town hall’s policy an “unacceptable provocation “. Speaking to National Public Radio in the US last week, the mayor of Grenoble noted that the burkini decision “hit very intense emotions for people”. With all due respect, these people should find a therapist to manage these intense emotions. If you’re triggered by a woman who doesn’t show her bare legs in public, the problem isn’t Islam, it’s you.

Grenoble’s pushback on burkinis didn’t just trigger intense emotions; this sparked a legal battle. From one day to the next, the highest administrative court in France must render a decision on the type of swimsuit legally acceptable. Truly a wonderful use of taxpayer resources.

If it can be dressed up with arguments about secularism (secularism), the backlash against burkinis has obvious roots in France’s deep Islamophobia. However, to be fair, there is more to it than just hatred of Muslims; there are also bizarre ideas about hygiene. France’s fashion police aren’t just busy policing what women wear, they’re also campaigning by requiring men to wear skin-tight swimsuits in public swimming pools. A law prohibiting boxer-style shorts in swimming pools has been in place since 1903. Budgie smugglers are cleaner than loose briefs because they can’t be worn for hours before swimming, the argument goes. I guess that makes sense. But it seems strange to focus on it, since swimming pools are usually filled with chlorine. I suggest France stick to what it does best. Please, my friends: eat cheese, drink wine and stop worrying about what other people are wearing when they bathe.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist


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