At the risk of tapping into the ever-furious debate about burqas, I can't help sharing this piece of fashion news: An Australian Muslim designer, Aheda Zanetti, has designed a swimsuit for Muslim women that she calls -- and I'm not kidding -- the "burkini."
The burkini, which covers the whole body except for hands, feet and face, allows Muslim women to go swimming in public. To the untrained eye it looks something like a wetsuit -- albeit one with a bottom-hiding skirt -- and comes with an attached cap, called the "hijood," that looks a bit like a Smurf hat. (With that said, the burkini is also UV and water resistant and comes in a range of colors.) Zanetti says she has sold over 9,000 burkinis at $125 to $160 each.
I'm not a huge fan of the traditional bikini to begin with (I've never understood why I'm supposed to feel comfortable cavorting around the beach in what are essentially my bra and panties just because there's sand). But I'm not sure what to think of the burkini. On the one hand, it does give traditional Muslim women freedom to participate in sports that they may not have been otherwise able to (at least without dragging a wet burqa around with them every time they wanted to go swimming) -- and judging from the testimonials on Zanetti's site, many Muslim women are very appreciative of her designs. On the other hand, it still bothers me that women should have to hide their entire bodies in public.
The larger issues around the burqa are, of course, inflammatory and widely discussed, and I'll leave readers to debate it -- but in the meantime, here's a link to Zanetti's Web site, which will soon be offering a line of sportswear. Karate gi, anyone?