As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Saturday, July 9, 2016

That time I wore a bikini at a Catholic Vacation

This is a topic I am certain will be at least a little controversial, and many may not share my views - and that's okay.  But it is something that has been with me since my vacation last year, and I want to share it because I believe the Lord is bringing about conversion in my heart - about femininity, about masculinity, and about how the two genders coexist. Prior to last summer for me that relationship was marred with shame and fear - shame that, like many women of religious conviction, showing any part of my body that might be attractive to anyone but my husband is a bad, bad thing, and that holiness means covering all of those parts and never allowing anyone but your spouse to even see a hint of your feminine body, lest they be lead into temptation.  And fear that in general men were wired to look at me with lust, to possess me and my body, to take advantage and misuse and bring harm.  I am certain that a lot of this was just my own misinterpretation of what I thought chastity and purity mean, but my concept of this was blown wide open last year, and the fruit of that has been a true freedom and confidence in being created in beauty as a woman.

Last summer was my first CL Vacation, and while I had been on several family camps before, there are many ways in which this Vacation was different than anything I had ever experienced.  Perhaps one of the most significant differences I noticed was poolside.  One the biggest concerns for me on Catholic vacations (and indeed any time I go to the beach) is always what to wear - and in particular, how I go about covering my body up.  Like probably most women I love two-piece suits, but always wanted to make sure I brought a tank to wear over it, ever conscious not to show my belly.  So you can imagine my shock at seeing most of the women - Moms, teens, grandmothers, consecrated women - swimming in two piece suits.  It was something I noticed immediately, and I'll be honest there was much scandal initially.  But the fact of knowing this group of people and journeying with them for several years in faith allowed me not to simply reduce this as simply something they didn't know.  These were women who knew Christ intimately, who were well aware of the teachings of the church (including the ones on modesty).  And as I watched them and how comfortable they all were, it was truly ministering to me as a woman.  I was not threatened that my husband was seeing beautiful women in bikinis because these were not random women to me, there were friends, people who knew Christ and were not trying to steal my husband.  And perhaps the conduct of the men of the group was even more healing for me.  Because all of the things I fear daily as a woman were not present among this group. Nobody was leering at anyone, or looking at them with lust.  They were just there - swimming together, as men and women, friends in the Lord.  And of course I know these men too to be men of God, and their conduct really demonstrated that.  In this space I felt comfortable and secure, and it truly opened my eyes to the possibility that being a woman is not something to be feared.  That the feminine body does not need to be hidden away as a secret weapon to tempt our brothers in Christ, but that men and women can be near each other, fully masculine and feminine (men don't hide their bodies when they swim) and that it can all be okay.

It is an experience I have returned to many times since, and have often thought of since last summer.  It was really so beautiful to me, and I think that the Lord's timing is not coincidental as my own children start to get older.  As I consider what it means to be a woman of God, raising boys and girls who will be men and women, this experience truly causes me to look inside at the reasons modesty is important.  What I witnessed that day was that modesty is so much more than just how people are dressed**.  If I were to look simply at the attire that day, I would have deemed it all to be terribly immodest.  And yet the conduct between everyone showed that indeed, there was respect, love, modesty.  I think as a woman it was too easy for me to measure holiness and purity by how much skin was showing - more coverage=more holiness - and that kind of existence very naturally leads to shame in appearance and a fear of sexuality.  For many years I had been living with a huge burden of fear about masculine sexuality - because I don't understand it, and somewhere along the way had come to see myself and my daughters as a prey to it.  And yet in that setting last year, there was such freedom.  It allowed me to see that what God had made was good, and showed me that as it comes to modesty and chastity, there are a lot of things I have been doing wrong for a long time.

Nowhere is this more clear to me than with my oldest daughter.  She, like most girls (indeed like I was) is fascinated with two-piece suits.  We owned a few for her, I was not against them, but I never wore any around her, because I didn't want her to desire to be immodest.  I remember as a little girl being fascinated with femininity, wishing I had a woman's body to dress beautifully, and I felt certain that if I showed my own body it would cause my girl to want to dress in a way that would leave her prey to men's sexuality.  And yet in the wake of last summer's vacation, I realized that this desire she has for feminine beauty is not a bad thing.  In fact, it is given to her by God - just as the beauty of every woman is given by Him.  There is a difference of course in being trashy vs. beautiful, but to me that lies more in the way we conduct ourselves than in what we wear.  That is something I never realized until last summer - that a woman can be feminine, with curves and a mid drift, and even cleavage - and still be modest.  For so long I had been suppressing this desire that I too have as something that is bad, when really it is the way God has created us. In a world that is in such desperate need of beauty, too often women feel they need to hide their own. And what remains is the secular, perverted version of feminine body while the good Christian girls cover up and hide.  Last summer I was able to see there is another way.  It has been truly freeing for me.

And so, this year I lounged poolside in a bikini.  My daughter and I, together in our two-pieces.  When she looked at me I could see in her eyes that she thought I was beautiful.  My initial fear and self-consciousness gave way to confidence and freedom as I joined the rest of the families in the pool.  God has brought much healing to areas of my heart that I didn't even know were broken, and has given me a true appreciation of what it means to be created with a feminine body, in beauty.  For so long I feared the fact that men are attracted to women.  I feared that my husband would be attracted to other women, I feared that other men would be attracted to me.  When a male friend struggling with this very fact shared it with another man on the vacation (the fact that he struggled so much with being attracted to women) the man's response to him was simply, "So what?  Women are beautiful, that's how God made them."  

Not understanding masculine sexuality, for so long I had feared this.  And yet in these days, I am considering what a thing of beauty it can be.  Men navigate the world deeply in tune with their sexuality.  I don't, and so it seems foreign on the surface to me.  But when I think of how sexuality reflects the love of God, I realize that in a way there is the possibility for men to always be oriented to God in a way I am often not.  As a woman for example, it is very easy for me to turn off my sexuality because I have a million other things to do.  Not so for my husband, and the fruit of that is that he always desires to be one with me, which is one of the most tangible ways we can be united with God this side of Heaven. This is something I have often looked at with jealousy - why does it take so much work for me? It had never occurred to me until the days leading up to this vacation what a beautiful thing it is that God uses my feminine body to bring about this goodness.  When I would see another man noticing me I would have one of two reactions - guilt, or disgust.  It never occurred to me that stirring within him was not something bad to be repressed, but the desire for a goodness that leads him closer to Christ's love.  The world has taken this desire and completely twisted and perverted it, and we are right to be weary.  But I don't think we should hide ourselves away all together.  To me this has contributed immensely to the fear I had been living in for so long, that I didn't even realize.

So this week, on a Catholic vacation, I wore a bikini.  And it was one of the most freeing experiences I have ever had.  

(**update: In case there is any confusion, at this point I should mention that I do think it is important that whether a woman's bathing suit is one or two-piece, her private parts should not be visible. At the Vacation I attended the two-piece suits were ones that still covered these areas.)


  1. Hmmmm, not trying to sound harsh here, but going from super scrupulous, to the opposite end doesn't make things right. The word "freedom" here sounds like the same "freedom" to do as we please without guilt. Doesn't make it right. An example would be as the word "freedom" was used for using contraception.

    1. Thanks for comment Nancy, you have gotten to the heart of the matter for me. The reality is that the opposite end you are describing (equating freedom with contraception) is not the same place I ended up. There are no church teachings against wearing a bikini, and in fact as I was able to see that does not mean that you are adopting an "anything goes" attitude. For me, because any display of sexuality was always rooted in the negative, I came to see it as something to be feared. I appreciate your comment, but respectfully disagree. Everyone I spent time with on our Catholic Vacation (which, in case there is any question, is an organized coming together of Catholic families for vacation, teaching and fellowship) is completely in line with the Church, with everything the Church teaches about sexuality and contraception and the goodness and dignity of the human person, and did not feel this meant they had to cover up every inch of their bodies at a swimming pool. They were free, modest, masculine and feminine, and it was so ministering and healing to me. Thank you for your comment!