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My Burkini Story – From Freedom to Anxiety

The burkini is a form of modest swimwear which consists of a long top with a hood to act as a hijab and loose full length trousers.

They come in many different styles and colors so there is something for everyone.

Although the burkini is aimed at Muslim women, allowing them to swim publicly and enjoy more leisure activities with their families, non-Muslims may also choose to wear them for a wealth of reasons such as protecting their skin from the sun, concern of their body image, modesty etc..

Nigella Lawson a famous chef in the UK was spotted wearing one on a beach a number of years ago.

I myself have a burkini, it is a very simple design of black and grey.

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I had been Muslim for almost three years when I decided to buy one a couple of days before my husband and I traveled to Tunisia for a holiday in the summer of 2013.

Initially after booking the holiday I wasn’t too concerned about being able to swim in the pool or the sea; I decided I would just settle for a sun lounger and watch my husband have fun instead.

As time went on, I began reminiscing of all the fantastic holidays I had shared with my parents. Growing up, having the freedom to swim was a key part of the holiday for me; it’s much more pleasurable being able to cool off in the pool during the peak of the day.

That’s when I came to the decision that I wasn’t going to be the girl sat on the side of the pool sweltering under the Tunisian sun.

I knew of a local shop and the only shop at the time in Sheffield that sold burkinis and headed over there, paying a heavy price of £55. Although I was overjoyed with having found something suitable for my holiday, something inside of me felt very anxious about wearing it.

My Anxiety

Upon arriving at our hotel in Tunisia, I approached the hotel management, and asked them in French if it was OK for me to wear my Islamic swimwear in their pool. Alhamdulillah after living in France for several years, I was fluent in French which made the whole trip much easier.

Anyway, the manager was more than accommodating and happy for me to wear it; I got the impression it was the norm in their country. Since it was evening when we arrived, we took to the markets and local shops to explore further.

I was amazed that there were tons of mannequins all sporting different designs, styles and colored burkinis. At less than half the price we paid in the UK!

Read: Modesty, Swimming and the Burkini

Slightly bittersweet as mine was plain black and boring; but none the less I was committed to it now, having paid so much for it. The next day, we decided we would go to the pool.

My heart was pounding walking from our room through reception to the pool, wearing my full modest swimsuit with hood. I felt like I could almost feel peoples’ stare burning through my skin.

My husband reassured me that it was fine, no one was looking and that I had as much right to swim in that pool and enjoy my holiday as someone who chose to wear a bikini. His words were somewhat comforting and gave me an inch of confidence.

There is no denying that for the first couple of times wearing the burkini, people did look and stare; funnily enough it was the men more than women.

However, as time passed on, I didn’t really care what people thought of me, I had every intention of enjoying my holiday without compromising my beliefs just make others more comfortable.

My UK Burkini Test

Funnily enough, upon deciding to write this article, I decided to put my burkini to use again and test it out for the first time in the UK. My husband, myself and our two children decided to go to our local public swimming pool.

After getting changed in the changing room, the same anxiety that I felt in Tunisia swept over me again, but this time worse, with the increase in Islamaphobic and racist attacks since the UK voted to leave EU, I almost felt sick with nerves stepping out.

My husband laughed and told me to stop being a hypocrite and be proud, that’s what you’re writing the article for, aren’t you? He exclaimed.

He had a point.

I was writing this article with every intention of telling you to be proud of your burkini and your belief; but I myself knew, it isn’t that easy.

The burkini truly is liberating for me as a Muslim woman; it allows me to socialize more in different settings, it allows me to enjoy leisure activities and time with my children.

Sadly, I know many people my age who missed out on many experiences growing up because the burkini was not available to their mothers. I do not want the same for my children; I want to be able to take them places, to teach them how to swim, to roar down the water slides with them and create beautiful memories; and for me the burkini allows me to do all of the above.

(From Discovering Islam’s archive)