I recall hearing a story about the grade school daughter of some church leaders who attended a slumber party at a friend’s house. “Bring your swimsuit,” her friend had excitedly told her and the other girls, “and we can all swim in my parents’ pool.” Not long after everyone arrived, they quickly changed into their bathing suits, eager to play in the water like any children would be. But on their way to the pool, an awkward scene played out.
The church leaders’ daughter, in her highly conservative one-piece swimsuit, saw one of the other girls wearing a two-piece bathing suit revealing her belly. Some compulsion led her to approach this other girl and effectively berate her for her immodesty using the obliviously unintentional condescension that comes so naturally to eight-year-olds. It was very matter-of-fact, very well-intentioned, and very judgmental. The swimsuit, it seems, wasn’t very Christian; it was completely immoral.
Youth imitates age long before it achieves its own. This rebuke came from a young girl who had been taught to feel that way. It certainly didn’t arise out of her own walk with God.
Now, this can be an excellent object lesson for parents regarding teaching tact, loving words, and the importance of relational context for admonitions alongside the personal boundaries and convictions they ingrain in their children. After all, just because God convicts me on a subject does not make it a universal sin for everyone else (James 4:17). And it certainly doesn’t entitle or empower me to point it out as a failing in everyone I see.
But I ask myself another question here. Was it sinful for the little girl to wear a two-piece swimsuit? Was it un-Christian? Can a Christian girl — or woman, for that matter — wear a bikini? Should Christians wear bikinis?
What we read in verses like 1 Timothy 1:9-10 speak to the suitability of attire for a given situation and — more importantly — audience
I’ve addressed the topic of biblical mandates on modesty in dress previously. In short, I believe what we read in verses like 1 Timothy 1:9-10 speak to the suitability of attire for a given situation and — more importantly — audience.
When we choose our clothing — whether we wear them to church, the ballet, or the pool — we must consider the manner in which it might be received by the audience. Is it proper, suitable, and fitting for that scenario? What kind of impression will our clothing make? Will it be a known stumbling block for fellow believers?
Yes, this means at times we must choose attire that is “modest” according to the traditional interpretation because it is what is suitable for the given situation and audience. Yet at other times, the cultural paradigm is different, and what is suitable might not meet the modesty expectations of many Christians. Personally, and for my wife, I’m okay with that; I’m not too worried about causing offense when others don’t agree with my boundaries.
With that in mind, you can probably guess how I’d apply this model to the subject at hand. Depending on the situation, I see nothing whatsoever wrong with Christian women wearing bikinis. And I mean in plain sight, not the common bikini under an oversized t-shirt approach. If a Christian woman is prayerful and wise, she’ll know when it’s okay and when it’s not.
When it’s just her and her husband, her and her family, or her and her girlfriends, then it’s a no brainer. Sure, you can wear a bikini. It can even be a super skimpy one, with a thong bottom and next to nothing up top. There’s no risk.
Furthermore, given an informed and prayerful agreement from her husband, I see viability for the company of close friends of both genders, public settings like beaches or parks, and other situations. It all hinges on if it’s suitable.
I see nothing sinful or un-Christian about my wife wearing a bikini — or even less — in certain situations
So that means knowing the culture of large groups and the spiritual walks of smaller groups of close friends. This requires perceptiveness, research, deliberation, and prayer, and the “modest” option is just easier sometimes. But I see nothing sinful or un-Christian about my wife wearing a bikini — or even less — in certain situations.
What about the Children?
What about kids? Well, it’s not always in our children’s capacity to prayerfully evaluate suitability, so that responsibility falls on us as parents. Traditional modesty is an easy out, and it should be a fallback option if ever there is a doubt. But a two-piece on a grade school girl playing with other grade school girls at someone’s house? Come on. There’s not even room for unsuitability there.
That leaves the big question. Would I buy a bikini for my daughter? Before I started seriously researching Scripture and parenting with a determination that I would submit to what I learned, I’d have thrown out an instant “hell no” fueled by all the righteous indication my substantial religious intolerance could muster. Now, I’m a bit more discerning.
Provided it’s not the only swimsuit she owns, and either she has the sound judgment to wear it only when suitable or she’s willing to follow her parents instructions on suitability until such a time as she does have the sound judgment, sure. Provided it’s not unnecessarily skimpy, of course. I’m not buying a thong bikini for my six year old. I’m not sure if they even make those. I’m not sure I want to know if they do.
However, I might think twice about her wearing it to an all-Christian sleepover. Unless I’ve also taught her to politely accept and immediately disregard the well-intentioned condemnation that often comes (sadly) with Christian environments.