Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Come (to the beach) As You Are

Here on the beaches of Israel attire seems to be an all or nothing proposition:

All: I’ve seen some Orthodox women wading in to the Mediterranean with pants, long sleeves, and head covering. I can’t imagine that they swim very far. The weight of all that wet clothing must be unbearable for all but the strongest of swimmers. On the other hand, as a sun protection measure it can’t be beat. Someone recently suggested that I travel to Aqaba, Jordan, to get a close-up view of Arab culture. “You can see Muslim women swimming in the Red Sea fully clothed, while all the men wear Speedos,” this acquaintance urged. Turns out I don’t need to travel to Jordan to witness the women-swimming-fully-dressed phenomenon. Maybe it suggests that these two cultures, at least as they are carried out by some, have more in common than they like to acknowledge. (Or maybe not….)

Nothing: At the other extreme, in my beach meanderings I’ve encountered a man climbing out of the Med au naturale (though as I returned to my beach blanket he was pulling on his trunks, to which I could only say toda raba) and seen many, many women sporting thong bikinis (the rare fashion trend that seems as uncomfortable as it is unattractive).

In general, one-piece suits are rare here; women of all ages, shapes, and sizes wear bikinis. In theory, I should find it liberating that women don’t tie their choice of attire to preconceived notions of what is attractive. But I confess a nascent feeling that there are limits to who I want to see wearing a bikini (potbellied European women born prior to World War II who stand for prolonged periods on the beaches of Netanya scarfing down dates, take note).

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