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Swimsuit designer's speech sparks discussion on modesty

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof  |  Posted Jun 19th, 2013 @ 4:44pm


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LOS ANGELES — A speech given by a swimsuit designer on the history and influence of bikinis has pushed the discussion of modesty on the beach into the foreground again.

Jessica Rey, former actress on "Power Rangers" and "General Hospital" and now a swimwear designer, shared her opinions on modesty in her speech, "The Evolution of the Swimsuit," at a Q forum — a Christian group founded by Gabe Lyons with the objective to "educate church and cultural leaders on their role and opportunity to embody the Gospel in public life."

The video has been shared thousands of times since being posted on July 2, mostly by those sympathetic to the views of the designer.

"We need to teach girls that modesty isn't about covering up our bodies because they're bad," Rey said. "Modesty isn't about hiding yourself, it's about revealing our dignity. We were made beautiful in His image and likeness."

In the video, Rey discusses the origin of the bikini and the evolution of its perception among the American public. After the sexual revolution of the 1960s, she says, women were suddenly pressured to wear the garment or be deemed "square."

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Making a case for covering up, she cites a study in which 21 men were monitored on an MRI machine while they were showed two sets of images: one of women in bikinis, and another of fully clothed women. While viewing the first set of images, the brain region associated with tools, or "things you manipulate with your hands," were the most active.

"So, it seems, that wearing a bikini does give women power: the power to shut down men's ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object," Rey said.

Many commenters have noted, however, that the images used in the study were headless, and men participating in the study were presented only with the bodies of the women in bikinis. Others argue that although Rey's presentation has the appearance of an academic lecture, the research she references from an AAAS conference and published in a book, "Envy Up and Contempt Down" by Susan T. Fiske, was not peer reviewed.

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During the speech, Rey references her swimwear and the tagline, "Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?" Her Audrey Hepburn-inspired designs came as a result of Rey's frustration with modest swimwear options at stores. As she wore her suit out and about, she says, other women asked her about the suits.

Her retro swimsuit line features several suits that cover all cleavage, belly buttons or hips and are named after characters Hepburn played on the silver screen. The models imitate poses from 1950's pin-up girls and an accompanying blog abounds with beauty tips.

Rey's speech has sparked discussion on both sides of the argument. Some ask why women have to dress to accommodate a man's thoughts. Others complimented Rey's opinions and designs.

"I also am impressed that Jessica did something more than just talk about it, she created solutions," said one commenter, Carlee Johnson Madsen, of Lehi, Utah.

The discussion of modesty and dress codes, especially in Utah, has been a topic of frequent discussion. Last year, about two dozen high school girls were turned away from a Stansbury High School Dance due to their revealing dresses, and a student at Brigham Young University was the recipient of a note from a fellow student who felt her clothing was too revealing and distracting.

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