Jul 31, 2010

To Swim Or Not To Swim: Modesty Is The Question?

The question, in question, was simple. How come I cannot swim in your public pool with a shirt on? The response was interesting, and of course, I received several quick answers. I hope that they were well thought out, because the responder, was indeed a public official. Although, I am not sure if it was an 'elected' or an 'appointed' position, surely if she were elected her speech would have been more eloquent. Or not.

The story is not so exciting or outside the norm. If you really consider that my expectations are not usually too high, you would learn that the outcome of my dialog with said city official was not horribly disappointing. But, in lieu of the principals at stake, me having a strong desire to advocate for others, and that I am quick to pull the "I am a social worker" card, I decided to take action for the wrong that you are about to hear about.

I arrived at a park, a public park, in Grosse Pointe Park, early afternoon for a 'company' picnic. After mingling and eating for a short time, some of us decided it was time to take a swim in the pool. I must say, I was attracted to the diving boards almost instantly. I have always loved diving boards. I found the locker room, changed, and showered, in my swim attire. Of course, state mandatory regulations require all pool patrons to shower with warm, soapy water. I suppose that is to cut down on the bacteria that the chlorine does not kill. I complied, and then proceeded toward the pool for some summer fun!

Now, here is where some detail is necessary. I do not swim as most men choose to swim. I swim with a shirt. I know it might sound absurd, or maybe even hindering to my aerodynamic form when I do laps, but I still wear it. Not only do I wear it to protect against harmful UV rays, but I wear it for modesty sake. Yes! You heard me say modesty. In response to this I have often heard some people say, 'Oh it is really no big deal, nobody is paying attention to that!" Or, some reply with a cackling, "You think you are hot stuff huh?" The worst response that I usually get is, "You think you swimming without a shirt will cause a woman to sin?" Yes, for what it is worth, these typical, bantering responses do annoy me to some degree.

In case you have not figured it out for yourself, modesty for men is quite different than modesty for women. We have the benefits of a wider array of socially accepted norms and mores. This does not mean that our culture has not experiences a huge shift in the tolerance of clothing (or lack thereof) for women, it just means that men can walk around half-naked and not be chastised, or arrested for it. But, should a woman practice this same behavior (shirtless hiking per se) then she would most likely be arrested for indecent exposure. Why? Well she has exposed her chest. Thankfully, we have not reached such a tragic depth of public voyeurism just yet and most law enforcement entities would restrain or request to cease behavior like this. After all, there are children to consider right?

Comparisons aside, what is the point of my monologue here? After swimming in the aforementioned pool for almost an hour and a half, a few dives off the old diving board, and one killer thigh smacker I returned to the picnic for a little rest. After spending some time chatting, a few of us decided to return to the pool for a few more dives before leaving. This is when it became interesting. As I lined up at the board, the teenage lifeguard observing the diving end yelled out to me, "You cannot wear that shirt in the pool." Instantly I was startled. See, I heard the statement, but I could not see where it came from. Swimming means no glasses, and glasses mean almost blind. Then I looked up and said, "Huh?" This is when it became clear that the young man was telling me I cannot wear my shirt in the pool.

Instantly the folks around me said, "Just take it off!" Another woman had responded, "It is no big deal, you do not need a shirt to swim." The young lifeguard told me that I could dispute the matter with the head lifeguard, who in turn referred me to the park director.

We caught up with the park director and discussed the pool policy regarding clothing and swim attire. She informed me that there is a pool policy requiring all swimwear to be just that, swimwear. There were no posted signs, the park website contains no listing of these said rules, and I have made two requests to the parks and recreation department for a listing of rules, or the location they are posted for observation. During the discussion with the park director, she informed me that it is a policy they actively enforce because there is no way to know whether or not people are practicing good hygiene in relation to their clothing choices. For instance she said, "I could have been mowing the grass in this shirt." And the head lifeguard said, "You can just go down the street to Harper sports and buy a shirt." And the biggest contention that they offered was that my shirt was made of cotton.

That leaves a few arguments that are not adequately answered here. 1. How do you know what people are doing in their 'approved' swimwear prior to their pool activities? 2. What difference would a swim shirt, made of non-cotton materials make if I mowed the lawn in it? 3. Although you never mentioned the spread of bacteria in swimming pools why are you even allowing children into the pool with 'swim diapers' on?

Sure the diaper helps prevent seeping fecal matter, but it sure is not foolproof. What most swimmers probably do not know, is that most issues people face from public pool swimming come from the oral ingestion of water containing contaminants like urine, fecal matter, and other human wastes. Yes, this is disgusting I know! So is the idea of all the people that admit to urinating in public pools despite the close proximity of public restrooms.

Long story short. I was unable to reason with the pool staff about re-entry into the pool. I stated plainly that the clothing I was wearing is for swimming only, and that my point in wearing a top is that I do not find it necessary to swim half-naked. When reasoned with by the director to, "Go ahead, why don't you take your shirt off, you look great!" I responded in return for her to tell all the women in the pool to take their tops off as well. I did not think so. I suppose it does not seem to others to equate. She then told me that she felt horrible about asking a rather large woman to take off her over shirt as well. Not because the woman was swimming, or mowing lawns, or dusting knick-knacks with her shirt on, but because it was cotton.

I firmly believe that my body is for my wife. And likewise, we as believers must understand that the culture does not determine the acceptable level of nakedness, or better yet, determine what level of modesty becomes immodesty, but still socially acceptable. Had I removed my shirt at their command, not only would I have violated my conscience, but I would expose myself in a manner that is for the marriage bed, between a man and a woman.

Thanks Ms. Park Director for your inappropriate commentary, or better said, sexual harassment, but no thanks. You can have your rules and regulations, as for me and my house, well, we serve the Lord.


Mrs. Parunak said...

Hey, brother, thanks for keeping your shirt on and fighting the good fight! Male modesty gets way less attention, but it's still really important.

James said...

Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully the statement made resonates with those I spoke with that day.

Once sure can pray.

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