It’s waaay into swimsuit season, and as a 43-year-old mom of three, I’ve got my issues with swimsuit season. A few years ago, I decided I was gonna wear what made me comfortable and not worry so much about how “on trend” it was. For me, this means I wear a more high-neck model. It’s not because I am ashamed of my body, though. I am finally super comfortable with where I am. Turns out I like the way these make my shoulders look, and I’ve found that they suit me. (No pun intended!) I’m glad to finally feel comfortable in a swimsuit, but I’m sad to tell you that part of the reason I’ve struggled with swimsuit choices as an adult is because I grew up a Christian youth group girl entrenched in “purity culture” in the 1990s. As such, I was taught that my body was best covered up at all times, especially at the pool.
As a teen, I was taught that even wearing a V-neck shirt was an “eye trap” that could cause a boy to sin, so you can imagine that two-piece swimsuits were WAY off the table.
(Let me say for the record that this didn’t necessarily come from my parents but from Christian school and youth group.) To this day I don’t really wear bikinis because I feel like I am in my underwear in public. But, I also never would have DARED to as a teen, so I never got the chance to be comfortable in them. It simply wasn’t done. Girls of my generation were told that it was ON US to keep covered to keep ourselves and our male peers “pure.”
And that was so, so wrong.
That’s why this now-viral Facebook apology from a youth pastor, Bryce Brewer, to girls and women on the swimsuit issue totally floored and resonated with me in a good way. Brewer, who says he has “been a youth pastor on and off for over 20 years,” not only apologizes to girls for “the ridiculous ultimatum to my female students at summer camp, ‘ONE PIECE SWIMSUITS ONLY,'” but he also goes on to break his apology down in super-specific parts to explain just how wrong that ultimatum was on so many levels. And it’s something ALL our teen girls and boys need to hear!
So I need to issue an apology (I am using some humor here, too). I have been a youth pastor on and off for over 20 years, and I have issued the ridiculous ultimatum to my female students at summer camp, ‘ONE PIECE SWIMSUITS ONLY.’ First of all, I am sorry.
#1 I am sorry I didn’t teach boys to control themselves
#2 I am sorry I laid the weight of purity on a girl’s swimsuit while she was swimming, and not on the boys’ responsibility to not be gross
#3 I am sorry to all the girls who frantically searched for an appropriate one piece so that some male youth pastor could deem them appropriate . . . story here—I accompanied my fiancé and her daughter as we desperately looked for a cute one piece that would be appropriate for camp . . . it was hard and it sucked
#4 I am sorry we have deemed a young women’s body as something that “needs to be covered” and let young men’s bodies be OK to be seen
#5 I am sorry I ever let this be an item of discussion, usually led by men, at any youth leader meeting . . . this must have been awful for my female leaders and students to be part of
I am still a fan of the “No Produce Rule”—No buns, bananas, or breasts need to be seen. But why are stomachs overtly sexual? Why is a little cleavage sinful? Why are women meant to feel they are responsible for men’s actual sin of lust?
So, I am sorry to all the students, especially female, who we subjugated to our rules. I am sorry to my female students as they desperately tried to search for a swimsuit in the days leading up to camp. I am sorry if you felt sexualized by us telling you to cover up. I am sorry I didn’t teach boys to be men, and laid that responsibility on young women.
Female students: Wear a swimsuit that lets you have fun.
Male students: Stop being disgusting and control yourself.
Youth pastors (male especially): Stop being chauvinistic and making female students feel bad for having breasts.
Christians: Live like Jesus.
Is that an amazing apology or what?
As a mom of a girl, I especially appreciate his acknowledgment of how hard it is to find decent one-pieces. Body types are all SO different, and some bodies just aren’t comfortable in a one-piece. Some body types have a REALLY hard time concealing cleavage, also. Don’t try to put all females in a the same “modesty box,” please. It is setting us up for failure and putting an unfair expectation on us.
My own teenage daughter favors tankinis with the short-short bottoms, and I let her choose her swimsuits because girls should be allowed to choose what they are COMFORTABLE in, not what hides their bodies best. (I also do not believe that stomachs are overtly sexual!) It just so happens that my 14-year-old has decided she is not comfortable in a bikini (this may also be because she wants to be the female Peter Pan and never grow up, which I am fine with for the moment).
As a mom of two boys, I especially appreciate that Brewer told boys it is on THEM to not be creepy and to control themselves. My older son knows this and my younger son will learn it. They and they ALONE are responsible for their behavior.
It’s taken me a long time to break out of the damage done to me by purity culture, but that’s for another article. Let’s just say that I’m beyond refreshed and thankful for Brewer’s post and that my children of all genders will know that their actions and behaviors DO affect others, but that they are responsible for their behaviors and no one else’s.
Were you a ’90s purity culture kid? Where do you stand on the “two-piece” issue?