Consider the burkini. Typically a Lycra swimsuit that covers the whole body—with the exception of the face, hands and feet—burkinis have now been banned by authorities in France for being a "symbol of Islamic extremism."Of course, women's swimwear has historically been contentious. Who can forget that the public outrage when the bikini was first designed in the 1940s? But few have made a connection between semi-damp lycra and terrorism—until now.
The mayor of the French Riviera resort of Cannes has banned women from wearing burkinis on the city's public beaches. According to comments reported by the BBC, Mayor David Lisnard said, "I simply forbid a uniform that is the symbol of Islamic extremism. We live in a common public space, there are rules to follow."His ruling states: "Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism. Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order."No known terrorist attacks have been committed by women wearing burkinis or any other item of swimwear, but as it is unclear whether only burkinis are targeted, you may want to leave your sexy nun bikini at home for fear of incurring the 38 euro ($42) fine.France is currently on high alert following a spate of terror attacks, including a deadly attack in Nice which cost 84 lives. The country has a long history of secularism—all religious symbols, including the headscarf, were banned in 2004 from public institutions, and a ban on the burqa followed in 2015. Recent months have seen increased anger from nationalist and far-right groups about the perceived influence of "radical Islam" in French everyday life.
Read more: How Islamophobia Hurts Muslim Women the Most
Burkinis first exploded into popular consciousness when British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson—who is not Muslim—was spotted wearing one in the surf on Australia's Bondi Beach in 2011. Since then, the market for so-called modest fashion has grown steadily. One 2015 report projects that Muslim consumer spending on food and lifestyle will reach $2.6 trillion by 2020.
Of course, not all Muslim women wear burkinis on the beach: so-called modest swimwear is designed to conform to more restrictive interpretations of Islam.But what people like David Lisnard fail to understand, say burkini brands, is that plenty of non-Muslim women would rather wear a burkini than an actual bikini."We get non-Muslim women who just want to dress modestly buying our products," explains Mohammed Ahmed of Al Hamra, a British-based burkini manufacturer and retailer. "Some people have sensitive skin and they don't really want to be exposed to the sun. Or they have acne or cellulite and don't want people to see, but they want to go swimming. For them, not exposing certain parts of their bodies is really important."
I ask what sort of feedback Al Hamra gets. Have they ever had a backlash? "We don't really get any negative feedback, to be honest. People come to us and say they've helped us a lot, sometimes they have illnesses and don't want to go in the sun and they express gratitude for what we do."Their most popular product? "Our capri styles are really popular. They come with three quarter-length shorts and half-sleeve shorts and just a cap for the hair. The demographic for that is more open—it's not just Muslim women buying them." He explains they source their Lycra styles (available from an XS to a XXXXXXL) from suppliers in Egypt and Turkey, and that sales continue to increase yearly.One burning swimwear-related question remains. Exactly how long can you expect to have a soggy crotch in one of these numbers? "It's a family business, and my mum and auntie use them. They say it probably takes about ten minutes to dry out. Maybe 15, tops."