When swimwear becomes political: To wear or not to wear, is it now even a question?
A local film-maker from Leeds has been ‘spurred on’ to create a Facebook group in solidarity of wearers of the burkini.
Isabelle Stead says she was moved by a news story this week where armed policemen were pictured forcing a mother to take off her modesty wear on a public beach in France.
The images show police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday, close to the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais.
After the authorities arrived, the woman appeared to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, with one of the officers then seeming to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.
The photographs emerged on the same day that another woman spoke out after she had been fined on the beach, in nearby Cannes, for wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.
Her ticket, seen by French press, read that she was not wearing ‘an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’.
Isabelle said: “When I first read about this poor woman, I thought, ‘this is Europe, it’s 2016 and a woman is being forced to strip on a beach and is being made a spectacle of’.
“She’s not wearing an abaya or anything like that. She’s just wearing normal clothes with her headscarf on and minding her own business. I kept thinking about it.
“It’s a human right that we should be able to dress how we want. This isn’t Afghanistan with the Taliban rule. I just couldn’t believe it.”
The Facebook group is quickly gathering a following and ‘Burkinis on the beach’ now has posts of support from the likes of esteemed Algerian and Dutch film-maker, Karim Traïdia,
“If this is happening now, then where does it end? We’re living in a world that’s now based on a culture of fear,” Isabelle continued.
“We get enraged and we become fearful of the unknown. It’s shocking what happened with the terrorism in France and I don’t want to play that down, but I also don’t want to be standing by when people’s civil rights are being stripped. It’s a basic human right to live and let live.”
Isabelle points to a photograph being shared on the internet of a woman getting her bathing suit measured to see if it’s long enough.
“That was nearly a hundred years ago,” she added.
“Now we’re going towards the other extreme. So what do we do? Walk around naked?
“We can poke fun at it, there’s pictures of motorcyclists in their helmets and leathers lying on the beach and people are making jokes about it - and we need a sense of humour to see how ridiculous it is - but we also need to be aware how dangerously this can escalate.”
Isabelle has debated the issue at length with a Muslim woman that she works with.
“Is it really a choice when a girl has grown up in a religious Muslim family to wear, or not wear, a hijab? Even though the women say it’s a choice, if it’s part of your community, it’s almost ingrained as part of your culture rather than a religious statement.
“But, at the end of the day, it’s a person’s right to choose what they wear. It shouldn’t be up to the public or the government to decide, because then what’s the next step from there?
“That’s what’s really unnerving and insidious about this.
“In winter, are they going to stop people going around in big coats where you can’t see people’s faces? Where do you draw the line on that? I’m just shocked so I thought I would show camaraderie with these women. We should have tolerance and be open minded.”
Philosopher Bertrand Russell said in 1959: “In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say [or in this case, wear] things that we don't like.
“We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”
These words could not be truer in today’s climate.
To visit Isabelle’s page, go to www.facebook.com/burkinionthebeach/?fref=ts