Not only have the French gotten their knickers in a knot about Muslim girls wearing modest costumes to public swimming pools, but now an Italian city plans to ban it completely.

Women wearing the garment made up of a veil, a tunic and loose leggings face a fine of 500 euros ($850) if spotted at swimming pools or riversides in the northern Piedmont town of Varallo Sesia, said the ANSA news agency today.

“The sight of a ‘masked woman’ could disturb small children not to mention problems of hygiene,” mayor Gianluca Buonanno was quoted as saying.

Oh, the horror!

Is it the part about the “mask”? Yet most Muslim women don’t wear a face mask (they are almost unknown in Iran and Indonesia for example).On the other hand, half of Asia is going around wearing surgical masks to protect themselves against the swine flu, and I haven’t read too many editorials suggesting we ban their use.

This isn’t the first time that Italians have upset non Italians with their strict beach regulations.In 2005, an Italian tourist guide upset a lot of Germans when it noted that topless sunbathing by women, drinking beer,  eating noisily, hanging wet clothes from beach umbrellas, or playing football were “verboten” in Italy. Indeed, some Italian towns post signs of a bikini with a line through it, warning visitors that strolling through town in beach wear is a no no.

Yet going overboard against those who wish to bathe modestly is absurd.

Does a UK swimming pool that has one or two sessions a week for modest Muslim women to swim while covered up mean they are “kowtowing to Islam” or merely noticing that it is a way to accommodate those who are modest?

After all, many public pools have sessions for the elderly or handicapped (so they won’t be pushed over by the more rambunctious while tyring to enjoy themselves) and in the good old days, swimming at the “Y” often included male, female, and mixed sessions.

Take it from me: the reason a lot of middle aged women don’t jog or go to health clubs is because they are too embarrassed to show their bodies. Yet these women are the ones who are most at risk from Diabetes and obesity, and often need regular exercise.
Over a year ago, Manolo the shoe blogger had a post that gently mocked excessvily modest swim wear…and got a lot of answers from Christian and Jewish women (some who included links) who said: Yes, and we want to use them too…

The Manolo he should not laugh. Many of the womens of the religious faiths, including the Sarah, who is Orthodox Jewish, struggle to balance the modesty with the modernity…. Better for the modest Muslim womens to be swimming in the Smurf suits, getting exercise and enjoying herselves, than to sit at home with the bon-bons, gazing at the photos of the hankerchiefs that pass for bathing suits in these days in the fashion magazines, or compromising on her beliefs in the religion and the spirituality…

How widespread it this desire? USAToday notes the success of companies selling modest and ultramodest swimwear…

some Muslim designed swimsuits here and HERE.. And Christian HERE

Nor is it just the “modest” who might need cover-up. Sun damaged skin in those with pale complexions is a major risk for skin cancer, including the dreaded melanoma.

I myself wear a modest “1940’s” swimsuit design, but even then I risk severe sunburn if I don’t wear a tee shirt over it in the tropics. That is no problem here in the rural Philippines, where a lot of folks just wear shorts and tee shirts into the pool, but it did limit my time in outdoor pools in the US.

So why not allow a compromise, and encourage modest costumes that encourage women to participate in sport, not just in swimming:

Finding appropriate exercise wear is something that Muslim women have struggled with for years, says Laila Al-Marayati, spokesperson for the Los Angeles, California-based Muslim Women’s League.

She says some women and girls choose to work out in long-sleeved shirts and sweatpants, but that is only a partial solution.

“Muslim women sometimes will prefer to go to all-female gyms or work out at home, so they can exercise comfortably and not be overwhelmed with heat exhaustion,” Al-Marayati said.

As for full body swimsuits, my grandson informs me that this is now a big issue for competetive swimmers.

Apparently, a full body Speedo suit gives one an unfair advantage in swimming. And if you contrast and compare, when it comes to modesty, there isn’t too much difference between a full fashion burqini and a Speedo suit for women.

Except the price: Burqinis start at $95 at Amazon, whereas a full body swimsuit for competetive swimming is over twice that price.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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