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The Burkini Has Become A Potent Symbol Around The World

LONDON — The burkini has become perhaps the most potent symbol in France’s long-running battle over its vaunted secular identity. But in Britain and the United States, the full-body swimwear is being seen as part of a multicultural model of integrating minorities that stands in contrast with France’s assimilationist approach. In French-speaking parts of the Arab world, the swimwear has stirred debate, as it has in France; but in China, where face-covering swimwear has long been popular among wrinkle-fearing beachgoers, many do not understand what the fuss is about. Among women around the world, the gendered dimensions of the debate have not escaped notice.

The swimsuit’s Lebanese-Australian inventor, Aheda Zanetti, wrote last week in The Guardian that she had created the garment to “give women freedom, not to take it away,” after her young niece found it too cumbersome to play sports while wearing a hijab. “Diving into water is one of the best feelings in the world,” Ms. Zanetti wrote. “And you know what? I wear a bikini under my burkini. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

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