New Swimwear Inspired by the Patriarchy

DSC_1360_largeUsing the tagline “Who says it has to be itsy bitsy,” Jessica Rey, former Power Ranger, has designed a swimwear line, Rey Swimwear, created for modesty. She attributes her inspiration to Audrey Hepburn. The suits, manufactured in Orange County, Calif., range from turquoise halters to skirt suit floral patterns, and I would actually consider wearing them depending on the weather or my mood.

However, someone should never feel compelled to cover her body because of shame or how others will perceive her if she wears a bikini—which seems to be how Rey is selling her line.

When presenting her swimwear on, first she details the evolution of the bikini and its history. Along with showing images of old-style modest bathing suits, she mentions the sexual revolution and the women’s movement and how the rise of the bikini “has been attributed to the power of women, and not the power of fashion.”

Next, she brings in a study by Princeton University which focused on how the male brain reacts to seeing women in different amounts of clothing. The study showed the area of the brain lit up that normally reacts to tools such as hammers and screwdrivers. “A Princeton professor said, ‘It is as if they are reacting to these women as if they not fully human,’” Rey tells her audience. For Rey, bikinis give women power, but it’s only the power “to shut down a man’s ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object.”

Cute as her swimsuits may be, Rey is harking back to a time of flagrant gender inequality and characterizing one-piece swimwear as evidence that men can only think sexual thoughts while looking at bikini-clad women. And that attitude can support rape culture, defined by Lynn Phillips, a lecturer in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s communication department, as normalizing “male violence against women and [blaming] victims for their own abuse.” The subtle message Rey sends is that if women wear bikinis, they’re asking to be thought of only as a sexual object.

What we choose to wear is up to us, whether it is a one-piece or two. Enough with the body shaming: Bikinis did give women power, and that was the power to dress our bodies however we like.

Photo taken from Rey Swimwear website


  1. I don’t think bikinis are designed to give women power. Why wear a bathing suit at all? why not swim in underwear or nothing if the situation permits.
    Some people are not comfortable in bearing that much skin. Why not have fashionable alternatives? I would prefer legs on a suit to be honest.
    A feminist and woman power advocate

  2. BethSmash says:

    The video that she created made quite an impact on the Mormon community, which has it’s own discussions about modesty all the time. Here’s a link to my favorite blog post that actually looked at the real report, and points out the things that Ms. Ray exaggerated/misunderstood/possibly, knowingly lied about in her sales pitch.

  3. Angie Brunk says:

    Ugh! I prefer more covering swimwear for personal reasons and sun protection. Unfortunately it is difficult to find the coverage I like without the religious baggage! I’m currently drooling over some bike short length tankini bottoms. I would like to find a swim top with sleeves for sun protection. Oh, and is it too much to ask that a swimsuit offer as much bust support as an actual bra!

    • Check out coolibar for shirts with short and long sleeves. I wear an actual bra with them so very supportive.

  4. Rey’s bikini project is spot-on. It’s not about blaming the victim, it’s about educating and empowering. Camille Paglia said this beautifully back in the 90s, and I paraphrase here: Telling a girl that she should feel safe to walk in a bar wearing inappropriately sexy clothing where men are drinking alcohol is dangerous and stupid. While we would like to believe that she would not get raped, the reality opposes that fantasy. Let’s stop pretending that men don’t view women as sex objects. Know this, girls, and protect yourself.

  5. Stephanie LaTour says:

    What?!? You seem to have this totally backward. Jessica Rey is not “body shaming.” She is OPPOSED to men seeing women as merely sex objects. There is SO much pressure on women and girls to look “sexy”, but Rey seems to be saying that it’s okay for women to CHOOSE not to go around in skimpy bathing suits just to please men. Hooray for her!

  6. I see nothing wrong with these swimsuits. I would buy one. In fact, I adore all styles from the 1940’s and wish they would come backl. Modesty is not a shame based thing, it is a respect thing. If one of my sisters wants to wear a bikini I will not judge her. If I want to wear a more modest bathing suit, why is it *I* should have a finger pointed at me claiming I am full of, not modesty, but shame?? How dare anyone accuse me of that! Enough with the non-support for sisters who either don’t want to wear a bikini or who simply can not wear one anymore. The more options the better, I say. How about we stop pointing fingers at our sisters and instead, respect and support each others decisions? While sexual freedom is something we fought long and hard for, so is fighting against the exploitation of women. The argument can be made that – if we exploit ourselves, how can we expect others not to?

    • I second that emotion!!! How is it “empowering” for women to be PRESSURED to conform to looking like a sex object all the time? How is it “liberating” to be told wanting to dress more modestly is actually “feeling shame”? As a sexual assault survivor I certainly do NOT feel that ANYthing a woman wears can be said to justify rape. But, I do think it’s overdo to at least ASK OURSELVES QUESTIONS about the RELENTLESS sexual objecitifcation of women and how WOMEN THEMSELVES are told that it’s “power” for us to primarily present ourselves as sexual objects. Seems like this outlook has simply led to more anenexia at earlier and earlier ages–and girls being sexualized at earlier and earlier ages. I know plenty of mothers who realy struggle to find clothing for elementary school age girls that is NOT “sexy”.
      Yeah, i’ve gone a bit off-topic here…but, our over-sexed culture has grown OPPRESSIVE–nOT liberating. Hail to swim suites for SWIMMING!

      • Exsugarbabe says:

        It’s about choice, it’s hard to cover up all year then run around in your underwear on the beach, covering up will make some women feel more free. Showing off your body is a freedoom but it should never be a pressure. Being “sexy” and having “power” through showing your bits off is a shallow power, how about being listened to, having leadership at work and respect, none of those involve a bikini. So go topless or 50’s, what ever you’re comftable with.

    • Clarissa says:

      I agree with everything you just said, except the last sentence. Wearing a bikini, or for that matter any sort of clothing, is not self-exploitation. Seeing it as such promotes slut-shaming and is just as bad as saying that anyone who chooses to cover themselves is ashamed of their bodies. Jessica Rey’s stance seems to be that men are programmed to see women in bikinis as inferior to themselves and to more modestly dressed women, and that is a harmful stance. It promotes rape culture and inspires women to think poorly of themselves and of other women for things that are unrelated to the character of the women in question. No one should be judged by what type of swimsuit they wear, no matter what the judgement is or what type of swimsuit it is.

      • Thank you for being a voice of reason. Bikinis, tankinis, one-pieces, etc. are all valid bathing suit options. I’m not exploiting myself when I wear a bikini. I’m not trying to sexually entice men. I’m wearing an outfit appropriate for swimming that fits my body, supports my breasts, and looks cute. I am not inferior to a woman who wears a different type of bathing suit OR who has a different type of body. I looked at Jessica Rey’s swimsuits. They wouldn’t fit me.

  7. The study in question that she references quite clearly demonstrates that the men who “are reacting to these women as if they not fully human” are only doing so AFTER testing extremely highly as “Hostile Sexists”. Other men are not likely to have the same view. So someone who is already intensely sexist will be more inclined to view women in bikinis as meat, what a shocker. This was a good blog that I read in response to the swimwear video
    I’m quite disappointed that Ms Vernasco’s article doesn’t even mention this rather important point. Rey’s entire basis for her swimwear line in flawed.

  8. When I watched her presentation, my initial reaction was like this piece. But upon further reflection, I think she makes a practical point. Certainly if a woman wants to wear a bikini, no one should shame her out of that. But on the flip side, I’ve always been very uncomfortable in bikinis but have also felt pressured to wear them because anything else was “uncool.” As an adult, I don’t care as much about the cool factor anymore and actually purchased one of her swimsuits. Just as much as women should have the power to be as scantily-clad as she wants to be, she should also be given the power to cover up. I feel like her purpose and way of marketing is giving women the power to resist pressure to show more at the beach. In the end, I didn’t see her presentation quite as problematic, even with factoring in that study on the male brain that really did throw me for a bit. Overall, I think it is more positive than negative.

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  10. I tend to prefer modest swimwear, because I am fair skinned, and the less skin exposed, the less that is vulnerable to sunburn. However, I don’t like being told to cover up to keep myself from being raped/objectified. Also, the Power Rangers are super annoying. So I won’t be buying these swim suits.
    Despite my fear of sunburns, I think I might buy a fatkini next year.

  11. What about the one piece worn by women on European beaches? Zero piece for both sexes is even better, because it really allows everyone to see what men “think”!

  12. Just a small point: Whether women wear an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini or a one-piece bathing suit or a nun’s habit, men are going to think sexual thoughts. Wear whatever you feel like wearing!

  13. Isn’t this all about choice? Please, we need to stop bashing one another regarding which style bathing suit we choose to wear.

  14. I shut down as soon as she started talking about men’s brains thinking of women as objects. It’s classic victim-blaming and excusing the offender. I remember the modesty talks I always got in church and high school when I was a young teen, and she’s really not adding anything new to the discussion.

    The issue of modesty is really interesting to me. Who’s to decide what modesty is? Is it not showing your breasts? Not showing your thighs or shoulders? Why are some body parts acceptable but not others? What about when we go swimming? If she had worn one of her tankinis to her presentation, would that have been modest?
    “That’s different! Tankinis are for the beach! There are different modesty standards for going to the beach than for everyday functions.”
    Then what was her point in talking about the way men’s brains supposedly react to “scantily-clad” women? Do men’s brains change once they go to the beach? And if they’re so inclined to see women as objects, what difference would it make if I wore one of her tankinis instead of a bikini? Or a burqa or a mumu or snowpants? Should I opt out of wearing something I like just to appease men and deter them from raping me? That’s no way to live.
    “Buy my tankinis! It’ll make men less likely to want to rape you!”

  15. I have never been comfortable showing a lot of skin, even when I was a teenager. I think women/girls should feel comfortable showing a lot or a little as long as they are not shamed into doing either. I personally am drawn toward clothes that are flattering to my figure rather than items that are trendy and may look good on other people. If you’re not comfortable wearing a certain style, then you are not comfortable and there ought to be clothes that reflect the personal tastes of a variety of people rather than a narrow ideal that gets pushed on us all. I used to work in retail and sold bathing suits. Larger sized women would complain about their figures and I would try to tell them that it wasn’t their fault it was the swim suit’s fault. Still try telling that to designers.
    Since I don’t often get into bathing suits, I have a similar issue regarding women’s shirts/blouses.
    I have noticed that if I want a shirt that has longer short sleeves, in other words not those cap sleeves or tank type shirts which seem to permeate clothing stores, I have to put up with that same shirt having a plunging neckline. Conversely, if I want a higher neck, I must cope with cap sleeves.
    It’s as if you can’t be a woman without being forced to bare something. I spoke to a young salesperson recently who was empathizing with my irritation with the monopoly of short short sleeves. She said she hears it all the time from her customers.

  16. radical-dyke says:

    Wearing a bikini will not liberate women, only rejecting men can do that. Where men go their violence is never far behind.

  17. Wearing this types of swimsuits provides the ease and feels very comfortable designs you provide looks very attractive colours are also good .the issue of modesty is also very fine to me.and also we do not need to think what men’s likes or not just wear in which we feel comfortable

  18. Wearing a bikini is not something that all women are comfortable with. Some of them just prefer going inside the pool keeping their body covered. And because such swimwears weren’t available in the market earlier, women were uncomfortable going to the pools.

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