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Modest swimsuit designer speaks out on bikinis

Published: Wednesday, June 19 2013 11:55 a.m. MDT

Jessica Rey - The evolution of the swim suit

Jessica Rey is an actress/designer with an MBA, and she has a mission. Recently she addressed a topic with a history of sensitivity: the bikini. In a video published on qideas.org, Rey presented the evolution of the two-piece suit, along with her ideas on modesty, including her own line of modest swimwear.

The topic has long been debated and discussed, especially among blogs, youth religious sites, women's beach volleyball discussions and whenever a controversial new business comes to town.

In fact, a few years back, bikinis were the talk of Kanab city when the city council banned the two-piece attire from community swimming pools (the rulings were eventually lifted).

But as Rey explained in her presentation, the controversy began with French engineer Louis Réard who worked in his mother's lingerie shop. It was back in 1946 when Réard unveiled the outfit that was "smaller than the world's smallest swimsuit," one that was guaranteed to fit through a wedding ring.

The bikini received its name from a nuclear bomb testing site, Bikini Atoll, as Réard correctly assumed it would have an explosive reaction on the public. Rey continued to explain that the bikini was so scandalous at the time that no French model would agree to debut the new swimsuit, forcing Réard to hire a stripper to model his design.

But it didn't taken long for society to accept the new line of swimsuits. In fact, before Réard, two-piece suits had already been worn. In "The history of the bikini" by Time magazine, photos of Roman mosaics prove that the bikini wasn't entirely new, as athletes are depicted as wearing such uniforms. Yet, from the 1890s up to the 1960s, a girl who showed too much skin was perceived as having no tact or decency, as Modern Girl described in 1957.

Social norms began to change as quickly as the popularity of Brian Hyland's hit single, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." The first-ever swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated was released in 1964 and has been openly accepted ever since.

But what many women don't think about when wearing a bikini is what they are revealing about themselves, Rey explained. Rey continued to describe a study conducted by male Princeton University students:

"Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily-clad women, the regions of the brain that are associated with tools, such as screwdrivers and hammers, light up," Rey said. "One professor said, 'It is as if they are reacting to these women as if they are not fully human.' "

Although the popularity of the bikini has been attributed to the "power of women," Rey believes the bikini can make women powerless:

"Bikinis really do inspire men to see women as objects — as something to be used, rather than as someone to connect with. So it seems that wearing a bikini does give a woman power: the power to shut down a man's ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object. This is surely not the kind of power women were searching for — the power to be treated as an equal, to be seen as in control and to be taken seriously. It seems the power they were searching for is more attainable when they dress modestly."

But modesty seems to not be "in style," according to Reys. "The very word 'modesty' is often met with much disdain. But I have to admit, I thought the same thing when I first learned about modesty."

That's why Rey decided to open her own business of modest swimwear. Established in May 2008, Rey Swimwear has continued to grow, now servicing more than 19 countries. With the tag line, "Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?" Rey's designs are inspired by fashion icon Audrey Hepburn.

"My goal is to disprove the age-old notion that when it comes to swimsuits, less is more," Rey said. "And that you can dress modestly without sacrificing fashion."

During an interview with PAL, Rey described her three main rules she sticks to when designing a swimsuit:

"Try to make sure nothing is hanging out; make sure the design is feminine and beautiful; stay away from anything boring, drab or matronly."

Overall, Rey expressed the importance of teaching modesty and what it truly reveals about yourself.

"We need to teach girls that modesty isn't about covering up our bodies because they're bad. Modesty isn't about hiding ourselves; it's about revealing our dignity," Rey said. "We were made beautiful, in (God's) image and likeness, so the question I'd like to leave you with is, 'How will you use your beauty?' "

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