If there is one incredible gift last summer’s lockdowns gave us youth workers, it was a blessed reprieve from the annual swimsuit dress code debates.  Things are starting to reopen, and we have less time this year for navel-gazing as things get back to full swing.  Speaking of navels, can we just not this year?  Can we not debate whether a young woman’s belly button is too sexy for our camp?

I get it, swimsuits equal sexy in our culture, and we youth workers want to avoid sexy like Jonah avoided Nineveh.  But really, can’t we do better?  This year, I implore all of youth workerdom to consider the following when drafting your packing list for camp.

1.Context matters.

Many people think their swimsuit rules are either Christian or not Christian, and that’s that. Can all of us grown-ups just go ahead and admit that we know that just isn’t true? If you do some searches through the social media debates, you will find churches in lake or beach towns that find the whole issue laughable.  Once, someone from Australia chimed on to say, “everyone here wears bikinis…but everyone in Australia also wears a rash guard.  Do American’s not wear rash guards?”  There are some countries and cultures where walking anywhere but the actual beach without a cover-up or a shirt on is highly offensive. In some European countries, women are not allowed to enter a cathedral for a tour without their shoulders covered but might visit a topless beach on the very same trip.  Sometimes, you may agree to rules for a mission trip that honor the culture you are serving, even if you don’t believe in those rules—culture and context matter. Swimwear is fashion, not a fruit of the Spirit. Covering your belly button is not a matter of loving Jesus or not loving Jesus.

2.Swimsuit rules drip of exclusivity.

Have you ever purchased a fully supportive one-piece woman’s swimsuit?  They are expensive. Most young women have a cheap, cute swimsuit from a big box store. When Susie gets invited to the youth group pool party, she suddenly needs a one-piece to attend. Susie likely doesn’t have one, so she can’t go. Or worse, many of your students may not even invite someone because of the swimsuit rules. And if someone does come and she’s the only one wearing a two-piece, she is automatically an “other.”  Consider allowing parents to choose swimwear with their children, and then let those choices stand. Because we are ultimately parent partners, and, no offense, but we moms don’t need to consult a 30-year-old bearded dude with tats and a creepy white van before purchasing swimwear for our daughters.  We just don’t!

3.Okay, so you read the above, and you’re thinking nope, we’re a lusty bunch over here, and we gotta crackdown.

I’d say that’s fine, as long as you are policing the swimwear of both boys and girls.   No bare chests for boys.   This can obviously get VERY tricky due to cultural fashion.  So, here’s a solution posted by some youth worker once that I thought was brilliant. I’m sorry I can’t remember who you are!!! He bought rash-guard style t-shirts as his official camp shirt. He required everyone to wear them in the pool. This solution is not only very fair but actually solves the deadly problem of teenagers who refuse to wear sunscreen. My point is, please don’t put this all on your girls. Don’t embarrass them with an oversized T-shirt of shame.  Their bodies are 100 percent made in the image of GOD and should never be an object of shame.

So, what is my final recommendation?

Have a policy that encourages all students to wear appropriately fitted swimsuits for sports activities and to wear a rash guard for sun protection.  Encourage parents to help their child choose a suit that will stay in place. Try to have students not pulling up shorts or falling out of their tops.  Which, again, wouldn’t matter if everyone is wearing a rash guard!  Safety first, everyone!

Ansley Higginbotham

Ansley has served in youth ministry for two decades and holds a certificate of Youth and Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. She loves the relational aspect of youth ministry as well as helping equip adults and students to lead. Ansley lives on her family’s beef cattle farm in Virginia with her husband and two young sons (and, sadly, no llamas).

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