SALT LAKE CITY — A swimsuit designer's recent speech about swimwear and modesty sparked a viral blog post that rebuts the designer's claims.
In a speech given earlier this month, former actress Jessica Rey discussed the evolution of the swimsuit and her opinions on modesty. The video of the speech has been viewed thousands of times and has given new life to an often tense debate about modesty and individual responsibility.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by Christian group called Q, Rey focused on promoting modesty as a way to empower women to fight against societal pressures to dress in a certain way. She said bikinis and other swimwear that offers little coverage causes men to see women as objects, rather than as people.
Rey also used the speech as an opportunity to promote her own line of swimsuits that offer full coverage of cleavage, midriffs or hips. The retro swimwear line features Audrey Hepburn-inspired suits named after Hepburn's various film characters.
Perhaps the most heated aspect of the debate sparked by Rey's speech has been between those who believe women should dress in a way that does not encourage sexual thoughts and advances by men, and those who believe women are not responsible for keeping the thoughts of men pure.
One blogger who responded to Rey's speech took issue with the idea posited by many commenters that it is "the responsibility of women to manage men's sexual desires."
"If it were true that men could not control themselves, a more effective solution would be to put out their eyes or ban them from the beaches, not to mandate a dress and behavior code for all women they might encounter," the blogger wrote. She argued that even in countries where women are made to cover themselves at all times, men find something to be attracted to.
Here's the truth: Men are people, their bodies made in the image of a divine Father. Women are people, their bodies made in the image of a divine Mother. Our bodies are beautiful and God-given, not shameful. … Men and women are capable of relating to each other as human beings, no matter what they're wearing. This is part of being an adult. We are capable of dealing with our sexual desires, which are normal and healthy and good, without shaming ourselves or those with whom we come in contact. Fetishizing normal female body parts — be they breasts, navels, shoulders, knees, or (gasp!) ankles — and insisting they be covered because we cannot control ourselves — does real harm to both women and men.
The woman makes the point that women are pressured from multiple directions to look, dress, behave and live in certain ways, and that it can be disempowering for women to constantly hear that their value comes from being appealing to men.
"Efforts to resist this cultural tide are necessary and laudable, and I applaud those parents who are raising their daughters to value themselves intrinsically, and to disregard what the fashion magazines show them about the importance of having a perfect body or a stylish wardrobe," she wrote.
In a comment on the video of her speech, Rey seemed to agree with the sentiment.
"I am absolutely NOT saying a woman deserves to be raped because she is scantily clad," she wrote. "Men are absolutely responsible for their own actions. I would say there's a large percentage of men who have looked at a woman as an object, but a small percentage of men who have raped a woman. The two don't necessarily go (hand) in hand."
Rey also defended the reference in her speech to a Princeton study in which 21 men were monitored on an MRI machine while being shown a set of photos of women in bikinis and another set of photos in which the women were fully clothed. Men who were "hostile sexists" — those who believed women were incompetent or inferior to men, for example — were found to have more brain activity in the area associated with tools, or "things you can manipulate with your hands," when they viewed the first set of photos.
"I invite you to read the research again … I also encourage you to read some of the comments on various blogs/articles about the research," she wrote.
The article on ksl.com about Rey's speech got 72 comments in 24 hours, sparking a debate that closely mirrored a similar conversation playing out on the national stage. The question of what defines a modest outfit is nothing new in Utah, either. In Feb. 2012, a Brigham Young University student made national headlines after receiving a note from a fellow student telling her the outfit she was wearing was not in line with the school's honor code.
Only a few months later, a Tooele teen also received national attention after her father wrote a blog post describing the trouble the girl got into at school for what school officials called inappropriate attire. And another controversy landed Utah in the news when dozens of Stansbury High School students were turned away from their October homecoming dance because of their attire.
The school ended up holding a make-up dance due to the outcry after the incident.