Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Swimming? I'm Thinking of Getting a Burkini

These days when I'm finding out the damage done by spending much of my youth enjoying the sun  I'm thinking - somewhat too late I'm afraid - of sun protection. The sun spots on my hands, some solar keratoses and a couple of early stage skin cancers needing to be removed have made me realise that it's a pity I didn't think about it when I was younger. I was blessed with skin that rarely even went pink let alone burned and so, unlike others in my family, it never occurred to me that I was creating a health time bomb.

As Australians of my generations went my family was sun smart. We went swimming at the beach before 10:00 AM and after 4:00 PM long before any of the slogans had been invented. My mother insisted on us using the nearest available thing to sun screen at least on our faces - no oiling ourselves and cooking in the midday sun as almost everyone else did. We were encouraged to cover up in the hottest part of the day and large floppy hats were fashionable for women so I wore one much of the time. And even so I have all this sun damage that is increasingly becoming a worry.

When I had children I carried on doing this, especially as Virgo had inherited delicate, pale skin that easily burned from my paternal grandfather. Much to my son's annoyance - he's like me as far as sunburn is concerned so he could see no point in taking precautions - hats were insisted on as were t-shirts - the long sleeved cover ups for children having not yet come on to the market - and my kids were always slathered in sunscreen. But it really wasn't enough, was it. The sun here is getting hotter and with climate change this will only get worse.

So when I saw the burkini advertised I was interested, very interested. While it was originally created by an Australian woman with a view to allowing Muslim women to enjoy swimming - this is Australia after all so why wouldn't they want to swim - it is looking an increasingly sensible option for many of us. I'm not a fan of covering up because of religious strictures - especially if they are compulsory - but I also can't see why it's anyone's business but mine or that of any other woman if we choose a swim suit that covers more than what society regards as the norm. Until now the only option has been to cover up with a T-shirt and that's very uncomfortable when it gets wet. Ask me how I know. Alternatively you could wear a rashy - this is probably not a word anywhere but in Australia but I can't help it. We Aussies abbreviate almost everything.  Of course, I'm talking about a rash vest or rash guard. Rash guards come in a variety of different styles and fabrics - and some look not that much different from the burkini. Makes me wonder why a rashy would be acceptable and a burkini not.

The burkini range includes garments I personally wouldn't choose to wear - I don't particularly want a head covering although for someone like Virgo who invariably gets her scalp burned along the part line every summer it would be a good option and nor do I want full length leggings - but that's not a reason for others not to choose them. One of my friends pointed out that she hasn't gone swimming for years because she burns easily and hasn't been able to cover up the ravages age at least to some extent. For her a burkini is an appealing option and why shouldn't she have the right to that choice?

The kind of burkini that I'm seriously thinking about is the sun safe range where you get to wear a garment with ¾ length sleeves and slim fitting pants. They are chlorine resistant, provide UV protection of 50+ and come in a number of different colourways and would certainly provide some protection against the harsh Australian sun.

Burkinis have been around since the early 2000s but suddenly came into the news when the south of France seemed to collectively lose sight of what is and isn't appropriate beach wear by banning them because they see them as religious symbols - and, yes, they started out being designed for Muslim women but now they are defintely moving beyond that into the wider community.

In the last few weeks we have had the unedifying spectacle of armed police standing over a fully clothed woman demanding she removes some of her clothes and other times when fully clothed women have been ordered from the beach for wearing garments like burkinis. Now there have been times when I've gone to the beach fully clothed because I wasn't interested in swimming. I've worn jeans and oversize sweaters when it's been cold, I've worn short shorts and long shorts with both short and long sleeved tops - I often wear a long sleeved shirt over my swim suit, too, I've worn a dress, I've even worn a full flowing maxi dress for heaven's sake and I have to wonder exactly why a burkini would be more offensive than any of these.

Given my current experiences with skin cancers - and seeing the TV news interviews with all these bronzed French women in their tiny bikinis and knowing that they in a few years may well be like me having to have skin cancers removed - I have to wonder when common sense went out the window. If a burkini covered the face I could perhaps understand these bans - the face is, after all, how we identify each other - but these garments don't do that. Whether they are worn for modesty or for sun protection is surely no one's business but the wearer's - and, as a useful side effect, the inevitable health consequences will at least have been lessened.

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