Photo courtesy of burkini.com.
I’ll admit it: I hate family gatherings. Not only does it mean you have to rid yourself of the delusion that you’re fond of most of your family, it also leads to dialogues like the one I had yesterday. I walked into a relative’s funeral and first met a friend of my father in-law’s. This elderly gentleman spent the first ten minutes telling me about the Irritable Bowel Syndrome that plagues him, and then he looked me up and down and asked, “You look larger than you did when I saw you last time. How much fatter are you going to get?” At that moment, I wished for two things. One, may his bowels never be un-irritated. Second, if only I’d worn a burkini instead of a sari.
Last week, for a day or two, the British media didn’t devote all its attention to the royal wedding. Instead its gaze turned to Nigella Lawson and her beachwear, which is quite a feat even for the domestic goddess, food writer and TV chef. Only days after France’s ban on the burqa and niqab was unleashed, Lawson was spotted on Australia’s Bondi Beach, wearing a burkini. Bondi is well known for surfer dudes and hot babes. It is less familiar with the idea of a hot babe covering up her hotness in a garment that comes with a hood and exposes little more than the tip of the wearer’s nose, and their fingers and toes. Nigella Lawson, who can make mushy peas sensual and is well-known for curves that vie with her intensely-photogenic food for lushness, had chosen to wear a garment that had been designed for the ultra-conservative Muslim women? The British media gawped, sputtered and, no doubt, reached for the nearest bottle of whisky.
The burkini is the brainchild of Lebanese Australian designer Ahiida Zanetti. The idea of developing sportswear for women who are both sporty and Islamic came to Zanetti in 2003. Within three years, the designer was attracting attention for the “hijood” and the “burkini”. The hijood is a hijab shaped like a hood, made of lightweight fabric. The burkini is a two-piece swimsuit, like a bikini, but as modest as and smaller than a burqa. Apparently, Lawson chose to wear a burkini because it offered maximum protection for her alabaster skin against UV rays. She did not wear it as a comment upon France’s attitude towards non-Christian religious practices.
This is probably a good thing because had Lawson picked the burkini for political reasons, I fear the campaign would be a spectacular failure. There is no hot-blooded heterosexual male or lesbian who would support a law that would make it legal for a woman as sexy as Lawson to look as dumpy as she does in a burkini. Let’s face it: the burkini is as unflattering as beachwear can be, which is what makes it such a hit with conservatives. But the fact of the matter is that the burkini doesn’t only protect one’s modesty in keeping with Islamic doctrine but also offers those of us with excessive jiggly bits, a beachwear option that doesn’t make us look like Willy from Free Willy.
When I saw the pictures of Lawson in her black burkini, two thoughts swooshed through my head. One was that Lawson looked like she was wearing a garbage bag. Second, there were cotton-sari-clad grannies who bathed in the Ganges at Varanasi that looked hotter than Lawson did in a burkini. For all the swirly gold designs that stretched across Lawson’s impressive bosom, the burkini made her look unusually ghastly. It made her look like she was about to plan a heist or start searching for sunken treasure because essentially, the garment looks like a loose wetsuit or one of those one-piece wonders that the most gymnastic of thieves, like Vincent Cassel in Ocean’s 13, wear to ensure they can beat laser burglar traps.
There also shimmered before my eyes of an image of a futuristic Varanasi, one in which the ghats of the Ganges are lined by women wearing burkinis in a gamut of colours; all hooded, all glinting in the sun, all looking like they’re wearing wet, stretched plastic bags. A part of my family is from Varanasi and I have vivid memories of being stared at as though I was a Playboy bunny when at age 13, I decided to wear a swimsuit when going to take the customary dip in the Ganges. I didn’t understand why I was being ogled at when all around me were women whose wet saris made Mandakini look demure. A couple of generations before me, women from our oh-so-classy family didn’t bathe in the river. They sat in heavily-curtained palanquins that would be dunked underwater. This was what passed for a dip in holy waters. Next to practices like that, the burkini seems positively liberal.
However, more than a decade later, I have to admit that if I had to choose between a burkini, a wet cotton sari and a bikini, I would pick the first. If you’re a practicing Muslim and want to go swimming, then the burkini is pretty much your only option but even as a non-Muslim, the burkini promises the kind of discretion that sportswear in general doesn’t extend to unfit women. Not only does the burkini make sure you have no tan lines and reduce chances of skin cancer, as ridiculous as it may seem, it seems to be least embarrassing of the options when you’re someone who is literally well-rounded. Like me. It’s a tragic world when the conservative option appears to be the most tasteful and sensible one.Tags: burkini, Deepanjana Pal, Special Top Story, The Definite Article