A one-sentence history: The burkini was developed way back in 2004 by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebaneze-born Australian designer, specifically with the goal of giving more conservative Muslim women a swimwear option they'd actually feel comfortable wearing.
Having had friends and relatives that would never go swimming because of the lack of fabric associated with contemporary swimwear, I was ecstatic to learn of the burkini. I have always loved the water--ocean, lake, river, pool, hot springs, hot tub--I'm there. Growing up, it broke my heart that women I cared deeply about would never share in the peace and refreshing freedom I felt in the water. And as someone who would, given the option, opt for baggy striped 1920s swimwear, I get the appeal.
So, back in September, when a woman in Nice was made to remove her burkini by armed authorities, I was pissed. In the aftermath of yet another atrocious terrorist attack, the French government reacted out of fear and a ban was passed on this particular piece of beachwear (it looks funny and scares white people, would be a sufficient synopsis of their logic). This is a matter of personal choice and an individual's comfort, not national security. Given that the state typically does a decent job of protecting individual liberties, French countrymen and women of all backgrounds were also livid. Being topless is fine, but covering up is a crime? (That wasn't supposed to rhyme...Anybody want a peanut?)
Then, a few weeks ago, I read something that gave me hope. Halima Aden is a Somaliese teen who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and came to America when she was six-years-old. While participating in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she wore a burkini in the swimwear segment. Plus, a hijab for the whole thing. Mic drop. These moments where we are nothing other than ourselves humanize us in the eyes of the scared and uninformed. We must follow Halima's lead over and over again. Until we're all just your friendly neighborhood Muslim.
Keep on keeping on,