Bye Bye Bikini

The battle between vanity and modesty – how do we maintain purity in this culture?

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When my son Connor was four, we bought him a Lego Star Wars book. He loved to just sit and look at all the pictures. One day I found him frantically turning the pages. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied “I’m trying to find the page with Princess Leah in a bikini!” I giggled, thinking God must just wire boys that way.

Two years later, Connor was headed on field trip to the beach and I was going as a chaperone. Connor asked me, “Mommy, can you please wear that two piece bathing suit?” I told him I was not going to wear that suit on a school field trip, but I asked him why he wanted me to wear it. He said, “I just think it looks pretty on you.” At the time, I thought this was sweet, especially for him to think about his Mommy. About a month later, Connor had a friend over to swim in the pool. Since there weren’t any other people coming over, I decided to wear an old skimpy bathing suit so I could work on my tan. When Connor saw me in this suit he said, “Mommy, I REALLY LIKE that bathing suit!!” Again I chuckled, but this time his comment left me feeling unsettled.

A few weeks later I shared Connor’s comments with a friend of mine. I told her that God must wire boys like this from a young age . . . but she was not so sure. My friend then told me about a family she knew who homeschooled their children, and how the kids had been sheltered from the media. My friend noted how the children still maintained their innocence, as if untouched by our culture.

I pondered the implications of what my friend was saying and began to feel a sense of remorse. Had I allowed my son to be exposed to the wrong things at an early age, awakening desires within him prematurely? (Song of Solomon 2:7) I started to tear up but my friend quickly interjected, “Carey – don’t step into condemnation.” She reminded me that God can redeem anything. I questioned how I could protect my son from all of these images in society (because they are everywhere) and she responded, “Carey, you can set the example of purity for him.”

Immediately I knew what I needed to do. The bikinis had to go. It may sound like a trivial thing, but my heart sank a bit. Since I live close to the beach and have a pool in my yard, I spend a lot of time in my bikini. I typically work out several days a week, so it feels good that I can wear a one at 40. In addition, I had just purchased my favorite bikini ever for my upcoming trip to Italy. It was an expensive boutique bikini that I found on sale, and I was really looking forward to wearing it.

I started to think back on scenarios over the last few years, realizing that God had been patiently preparing me for this decision. I recalled a time when I was sitting on the beach and the fleeting question passed through my mind, “what was my motive for wearing a bikini?” I quickly dismissed the question, because subconsciously I knew that if I processed that thought, I would have to admit there was no Godly purpose in it. All I could come up with was vanity . . . for drawing attention to my body. I knew scripture admonished us not to “cause a brother to stumble,” so it would have been difficult to justify.

Years ago a friend of mine, who was a young male youth leader, told me he decided not to go to the beach anymore because it was too tempting for him to lust. I remember admiring his profound faith and obedience (but at the same time trying to dismiss it since I was partly culpable). Why should I have to change my behavior because of his struggle?

Then there was my girlfriend who developed skin cancer and had to start wearing one-piece bathing suits to protect her skin from the sun. She shared with me that her husband didn’t like this – he said “one-piece bathing suits don’t do anything for a guy.” Her husband struggled with pornography, and without realizing it; he was spelling out how other women could help keep him from stumbling. I once heard a youth speaker talk about the dangerous combination of our fleshly desires – how men struggled with lust, while women lusted for others to lust after them. In reality, the only person we should desire to “do anything” for in that way is our spouse. I discussed my thoughts with my husband, and he affirmed my decision to wear modest swimwear. He said he “knew what guys thought,” and he actually preferred for others to not look at me that way.

Then there was the time I asked a girlfriend what she thought about wearing bikinis at our Life Group pool parties. She responded by pointing out her missionary friend (who is an amazing Christian) wears bikinis to them. Instead of looking to the scriptures, or asking God what He thought about it, we drew our conclusion by looking at the lifestyle of someone we respected. It wasn’t until later when I realized the significance of this . . . that people are always watching me too.

I later found out this same missionary friend who wears bikinis, had given up wearing make-up for a year, as a stand against the worldly ideals of beauty in our culture. She was on her own journey of counter-cultural self-sacrifice with God. So who are we to judge our neighbor (or compare ourselves to them)?

I am encouraged when I read about people like Kylie Bisutti, a successful Victoria Secret model who left her lucrative career because she felt it conflicted with her Christian faith. She became weary of the hyper-sexualization in the industry. Sex has become the god of this age, and we are constantly bombarded with false messages of beauty and desire. Unknowingly, these images desensitize us and can lead us to reshape our definition of what is good and acceptable. We are often blind to this influence, so we just assimilate into the culture, embracing the same standard of sexuality and beauty. But since Christians are called to be in the world and not of it, how can set ourselves apart?

So here I am, years later, and the question about bikinis arises again. This time I am ready to face it. It was no longer about what was permissible, but rather what was beneficial. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) As a mother, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect the purity of my child. God knew how to get my attention and my surrender, and as always, He is kind and patient with me through the process. So, I took my new bikini back to the store to exchange it for a one-piece. This was actually very hard for me to do, which just confirmed it had become an idol in my life . . . and it had to go.

Though I am fully convinced the Lord led me to make this decision, I do not judge anyone else who chooses differently (I can see it now – none of my friends want to go to the beach with me anymore!) We are all on individual journeys with the Lord, and He gently highlights the things in our life He wants to upgrade when we are ready to hear Him. Since God is a giver, not a taker, He always has something better waiting for us on the other side of the lesson. No matter what we lose or give up, the gain in Christ is far greater (Philippians 3:8).

As far as Connor goes, he wanted to know why I wasn’t wearing two-piece bathing suits anymore. I told him, and his perspective has changed since I made this decision. He doesn’t even want to watch the old Dukes of Hazard episodes because Daisy Duke is dressed “inappropriately.” I prayed for God to put to sleep any desires within Connor that were prematurely awakened, and it seems He has done just that. My heart could not be more grateful.

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

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