When my grandparents were young, people would go to the beach in long bathing suits, attire that often hid everything except the face, hands, and feet. After the First World War and our sudden exposure to the rest of the world, things began to modernize: hair was bobbed, hemlines came up on dresses and legs were bared, and swimming attire was abbreviated and much more practical. Skin was coming into vogue.
It used to be that moral outrage ensued when people showed too much skin to the world. Those who felt a passion to control the things that others were exposed to, got righteously indignant at the idea of topless dancers - and apoplectic when "bottomless" dancers started appearing in some of the dingier dives. Pornography was banned in certain communities, and some of God's chosen felt the calling to burn magazines that featured naked photographs of the human form, Nowhere was this revulsion against over-exposure more evident than at the beach. Bikinis for women and form-fitting swimsuits for men became more and more common in the years immediately following World War II - and not everyone was happy about it.
By 1960 Brian Hyland was loosening our morals with the song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and Hollywood was starting to make a string of "beach" movies featuring a score of so of scantily clad young people playing volleyball and having adventures on the beach. Surf's up! One of those movies was artfully titled, "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini."
As those beach kids began hitting middle age, topless beaches came into vogue, and some places even went all in with nude beaches. There wasn't much left to the imagination.
In less than a hundred year span, the world went from serious over-dressing at the beach, to the times when people could wear as little as they deem absolutely necessary - and even less!
But just when it seemed to be at the point where anything goes as far as swimwear is concerned, the morality police felt impassioned to storm the beaches once more and issue edicts on what can and cannot be worn while frolicking along the seashore. This time instead of demanding the people cover up, the opposite tact is being pursued and certain vacationers are being ordered to "take it off."
Several towns and coastal communities in France have recently passed ordinances that forbid the wearing of what is popularly termed "burkinis" on their beaches. The burkini is a swimming outfit worn by Muslim women that covers the entire body with the exception of face, hands, and feet - somewhat like the attire that my grandparents wore to the beach at the beginning of the twentieth century. The rationale against the wearing of burkinis is that they might incite acts of violence due to France's recent history of Muslim-sponsored terrorist attacks. Those supporting the women's right to dress as they wish at the beach see the local bans as part of an international war on women and on the Muslim religion.
There have been some incidents in France within the past few days where police have forced women to remove their burkinis - at times in front of their children. There is also a move in the French parliament that would make it a crime to take pictures of police interacting negatively with individuals in burkinis - and a crime for posting those confrontation photos on social media.
Germany is considering a nationwide ban on the wearing of burqas - the veils used by Muslim women to cover their faces when they are out in public.
One side is fighting terrorism, the other side is fighting religious intolerance - and each feeds off of the other. Wouldn't it be great if it could all be resolved with a game of beach blanket bingo - and a case or two of cold beer!