To a secular person, summer is a time to head down the beach or swimming pool in a cute bikini or swimsuit and hang out with friends and family of both sexes. People who haven’t grown up in the Orthodox faith don’t think twice about undressing in front of strangers. But anyone who begins to learn about the laws of Jewish modesty soon starts to understand that it is highly inappropriate to wander around in a state of relative undress. But there are ways around this problem and if you enjoy swimming and want to swim modestly with family members and/or friends, it is possible!
Rules of Modesty
There are different rules of ‘tznius’ or modesty for men and women who are frum (Orthodox Jewish). Since men are the ones who tend to look, modesty restricts what they are allowed to see. Women have to be careful about how much flesh they expose when swimming, which is why swimming can be so problematic as an leisure activity.
Swimming as a Family
Swimming with close family members is different to swimming with relative strangers at the beach or in a community swimming pool. However, there are still rules of modesty to be observed. There are different rules within different sections of the Orthodox communities: for example, modern communities are less strict about how mothers and sisters dress when swimming with immediate family than right wing Orthodox Jews. However, even in more modern and centrist communities, women and girls are still very much aware that they should behave in a non-provocative manner when swimming with men and boys from their close family.
Different Swimming Options
One way to sidestep the issue of modesty in front of the opposite sex is to swim at a pool with separate swim sessions for men and women. Community pools often run women and men only sessions, which if you are very concerned about modesty could be the perfect time to go for a relaxing swim. Of course this is no good if you want to enjoy swimming as a family. Private pools are an option, as are private beaches if you are lucky enough to have access to either one of them. The alternative is for women to dress modestly at public beaches and pools and for men to only swim when very few people are around.
Some communities prohibit mixed swimming, irrespective of whether the women dress modestly, but others don’t have a problem with mixed swimming as long as the women dress in suitably modest swimwear. Thankfully, there are now plenty of modest swimwear options for Orthodox women who want to go swimming.
Simple Garments for Modest Swimming
It is possible for ladies to swim in a long, baggy t-shirt over a bathing suit, but as you will soon discover, a loose t-shirt is not very comfortable in the water or on the beach; it also doesn’t cover enough, so you won’t be modest enough in mixed company. So what are the alternatives?
Lots of companies are now making modest swimwear for Orthodox women who want to spend time with their families at the pool, on the beach, or even in their own back yard. Modest garments are both stylish and appropriate so you can look great but remain covered up. Swimming at an indoor pool requires thinner garments as it can soon get warm in the water, but if you are swimming outdoors in the sea or in an outdoor pool without swimming pool heating, take advantage of the need to cover up by adopting thicker, long sleeved garments and trousers.
Sporty modest bathing suits are styled in the manner of a surfing suit, but with more coverage, although coverage does vary between different manufacturers. This style typically entails wearing a long-sleeved top over a sports bra, combined with a skort, skirt, shorts or pants.
Cute Summer Bathing Suits
It is possible to buy pretty summer dresses that double as a swim dress thanks to the fact they are made from a water friendly material. You can wear your swim dress over shorts or a body tunic. Other alternatives are swim skirts with tights attached. These are worn with a tunic top that covers the elbows.
Cover Your Head in the Water
If you wish to cover your head whilst swimming, there are plenty of options to choose from. Scarves, hats and bandanas are available to mix and match with modest swimwear. Bandanas in particular are great if you want to adopt a sportier look on the beach or by the swimming pool
You don’t need to sacrifice your sense of style just because your faith dictates that you adhere to modesty when swimming. In fact many companies are even reporting that their modest swimwear products are catching on with non-Orthodox swimmers, so style should not be an issue. It is also important to remember that you can and should swim whenever the opportunity arises – swimming is good for the mind and soul and as long as you stick to the rules of undress, modest co-ed swimming is perfectly acceptable in most sections of the Jewish Orthodox community.