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Braving the BurqiniTM: re-branding the Australian beach
Susie Khamis Cultural Geographies 2010 17: 379 DOI: 10.1177/1474474010368608 The online version of this article can be found at: http://cgj.sagepub.com/content/17/3/379
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There. Unlike a regular bikini though. the BurqiniTM is both a confronting cultural statement and a bold example of 21st century world fashion. Macquarie University Abstract A cross between a bikini and a burqa. high-profile terrorism associated with militant Islamic movements and events in the Middle East has turned international attention to Arab and Muslim cultures. and a view of conservative Muslim culture that had taken shape in mainstream Australian media: as restrictive. Keywords Australia. and suggests that. bikini. This surfaced. In turn. Aheda Zanetti. Macquarie University Email: susie. Importantly. In this way.sagepub. contrary to populist misconceptions. Department of Media. and especially after 11 September 2001. the BurqiniTM stakes a deeply ironic claim to one of the nation’s most revered sites: the beach. co. its provenance in Sydney’s southwest counters a widespread perception that some locales – specifically. this one does not compromise the modesty of its target market: conservative Muslim women. the BurqiniTM has helped to re-brand the typical Australian beach. burqa. Music & Cultural Studies. This article thus considers its significance in relation to two dominant stereotypes in recent Australian history: the ‘beach babe’. from expressions of pity to outright violence and aggression. Music & Cultural Studies. niqab or burqa – visible markers of Muslim identity. By appropriating the traditional bikini design for a contemporary Muslim clientele. Corresponding author: Susie Khamis.1 The name is a portmanteau of burqa and bikini.edu.nav DOI: 10. those with a large Muslim population – are less open to popular Australian pursuits.com at University of Bucharest on February 5.au Downloaded from cgj. beach. Islam Introduction Since the late 1990s. there is a place for Islamic cultural practices within Australian beach culture.Braving the Burqini : re-branding the Australian beach Susie Khamis TM cultural geographies 17(3) 379–390 © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: sagepub. like Australia. This scrutiny has been most intense for Muslims living in predominantly non-Muslim countries. Muslims suffered a heightened degree of suspicion and interrogation. for example. a swimsuit manufactured in Australia and designed by a Lebanese-Muslim woman. in the treatment of some Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab. These women became walking targets for a range of largely negative encounters. typically blonde. blue-eyed and bikinied.khamis@mq. 2012 . the BurqiniTM reworks a conventional symbol of Australian culture in terms consistent with Muslim modesty.uk/journalsPermissions. This article considers a highly provocative and deeply ironic response to such sentiments: the BurqiniTM.1177/1474474010368608 http://cgj. regressive and misogynist.com Department of Media.sagepub. It tests conventional representations of Australian beach culture. or variations thereof: the chador.
a figure doubly marked: this demographic embodies and expresses much of what has been so feared and scrutinized in Australia’s recent history. it needs to be seen why and how one group in particular became so closely associated with the ‘problem’ of Islam in Australia. veiling is no longer deferred until mid or later life. as the popular mood hardened around fear and trepidation. in its fusion of two motifs that are already loaded with symbolic and often contested meanings – the veiled Muslim and the Australian beach. the veil served an important discursive function: the more striking the differences between Australia and Islam seemed. for instance. when several Muslim students asserted their right to attend their public schools veiled. insulted and attacked. In the context of the ‘War on Terror’. This was seen. this controversy rests on some perceived link between the veil and a regressive. and loyalty to something other than fellow citizens. While the issue had punctuated French politics since 1989. this phenomenon has been widely noted and highly contentious. diet and decorum. 2012 . splintered sympathies are hardly new. and vary across Muslim societies. and why the beach became so strongly identified with Australian Downloaded from cgj.9 So. In numerous cases.sagepub. citizens routinely balance private interests and public obligations.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. As such. Although its design will be discussed in more detail shortly. two-piece swimming ensemble that enables its (female) wearer complete comfort and movement in the water. At its simplest.6 The issue here is how this fear – the threat to the nation symbolized in the growing presence of the veil – surfaced in Australia. and for a growing number of young Muslim women. these groups generally advocated a return to traditional Islamic tenets of dress.3 After bombings in Bali (2002). veiled Muslim women were publicly intimidated. though.2 In turn. Hamas and Hezbollah. reactionary mindset. and no doubt crudest. Madrid (2004) and London (2005). the easier it was for its outspoken opponents to declare a hopeless divide. have never been exclusive to Islam. to appreciate how the BurqiniTM effectively facilitates cross-cultural dialogue. President Jacques Chirac’s personal position was far from opaque.5 Unofficially. talk of pluralism became a political liability. Modes of veiling pre-date Islam. Put simply. the state acted to safeguard secularism. Although they had different agendas and emphases.7 In much mainstream media.8 For them.4 Of course. yet exposes no more than her face. Rather. essentially it is a hooded. many non-Muslims saw in the veil some proximity to potential violence. it became a convenient and accessible site for debate. there has been a strong resurgence of veiling amongst Muslim women around the world since the 1970s. having already told students in Tunisia that French people saw ‘something aggressive’ about the veil. and empathy for a much-maligned global movement. Officially.380 cultural geographies 17(3) Barriers and borders The veil is one of the most widely recognized symbols of Islamic identity. Its creator is an Australian-Lebanese Muslim women from Sydney’s southwest. widely attributed to the rise in broad-based popularity of Muslim groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. the veil signalled a cultural chasm between ‘oppressive Islam’ and the ‘egalitarian West’. In mostly non-Muslim societies. and since the veil demarcated the wearer in such an obvious way. secular life. in France. However. it peaked in 2003 with the creation of the ‘Commission to Reflect upon the position of Laïcité in the Republic’. it has become an autonomous expression of religious devotion and group identity that requires no such rite or rationale. fingers and feet. many read the girls’ defiance as ‘insufficient assimilation’. the BurqiniTM actively undermines this ‘cultural clash’ perspective. Conservative politicians like Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos used ostensibly feminist rhetoric to criticise the veil. However. This recognition has both a quantitative and qualitative basis. They pledged a holistic and public commitment to faith that seemed in stark contrast to modern. or after a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia (hajj).
made this issue the centre of his Labor party’s ‘law and order’ policy in the late 1990s. identified by language (17. Sydney’s southwest became a political. According to the 2006 Census. like Punchbowl. Unlike the boom in factory work after the Second Wold War. and mostly consisted of hawkers.14 In certain suburbs of Sydney’s southwest. one news item in particular reinforced this Downloaded from cgj.4 per cent of residents were born in Lebanon). while the second wave arrived during the manufacturing boom after the Second World War. sexualized insults.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. the impression that Sydney’s southwest was rife with race-based gangs became a culturally consonant one. 2012 . in three discernible waves.16 Despite the fact that. Importantly. and media hotspot. the percentages are even higher.18 A branded community Between the mid to late 1990s. and national background (6. As many ‘clustered with kin who struggled to accommodate them’. particularly young men and their alleged drift into ganglike warfare. the ‘problem’ of Lebanese-Muslims was seemingly confirmed.15 with the electoral appeal of reactionary conservatism in the mid 1990s. but growing.sagepub. religion (14. While earlier migrants found the transition into the Australian labour market relatively easy.7 per cent of the population. The same cannot be said for the third wave. and the violent removal of women’s veils. as Batrouney points out. this third wave experienced not only post-war trauma.Khamis 381 culture. This will then help explain Australia’s most recent and high profile display of race-based tensions. When the State’s then Premier. Australia has attracted Lebanese migrants for over a century.6 per cent of residents are Muslim). Lebanese-Muslim immigrants became associated with the suburban fringes of Melbourne and the Canterbury-Bankstown district in Sydney’s southwest. these waves experienced relatively smooth integration into the workforce. the migrant group most regularly linked with this rise is the Lebanese-Muslim community. the Lebanese presence in Australia doubled and became more varied. Bob Carr. shopkeepers. Not only have Lebanese-Muslims in Sydney’s southwest suffered the most from anti-Arab crime since the Gulf War of 1990–91.13 they soon established a distinct cultural precinct.19 Over the next few years. Gradually. policing. 340 000 respondents identified as Muslim. this group was materially disadvantaged. In the wake of the Lebanese Civil War (1976–1991). a move supported by then police commissioner Peter Ryan. Whereas the first two waves of immigrants comprised of mostly Christians. Sydney’s daily newspapers and talkback radio chronicled a growing fear of Australian-Lebanese Muslims.10 Since the 1990s.2 per cent of residents speak Arabic). and antidiscrimination boards have logged numerous cases where this has been demonstrated. Auburn and Lakemba.11 The first wave arrived between the 1880s and 1920s. but also higher barriers to the Australian labour market. and from the start. ‘ninety-six per cent of eligible Lebanese take up Australian citizenship – one of the highest of any immigrant group’17 – they have been singled out for their supposed antipathy to Australian values. This represents 1. from the early 1990s there were far fewer jobs that required minimal English skills. as well as the BurqiniTM’s wider critical significance. through racial slurs. and the subsequent attacks on Australian multiculturalism. and textile workers. the majority of more recent arrivals were Muslim. this group’s commitment to Australia has been repeatedly questioned.9 per cent increase since 2001. out of a population of almost 21 million.12 Consequently. a convergence that helped contour public discourse.20 In 2000 and 2001. and a 20. The Lebanese-Muslim Presence The number of Muslims in Australia is relatively small.
This association informed various cross-cultural encounters. According to many among the crowd. Australian media was primed for a ‘signification spiral’. that is. particularly the women.21 Nonetheless. the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research issued a public statement that. The Sutherland Shire has one of Australia’s highest proportions of people with English-as-a-first-language. and an entire community was effectively indicted. fears grew that terrorists abroad had Australian agents. an image of violence and misogyny took hold. not unlike Spain and the United Kingdom. this had Downloaded from cgj. While critics have named it the ‘insular peninsula’. Sydney’s southwest became an even bigger focal point for politicians. there was even more fear and distrust. but few as unsettling as what happened on a popular Sydney beach in December 2005. vigilante-style. based largely on how willing migrants appeared to exchange old practices for arbitrarily determined new ones deemed definitive of Australian culture. former Prime-minister John Howard once referred to the Shire as ‘a part of Sydney which has always represented to [him] what middle Australia is all about’. and London in July 2005. Australia had its own corps of ‘home-grown’ terrorists.29 Ironically. both connected to Islamist cells. in which 88 Australians were among those who died at the hands of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). In response.25 actions met with broad political support. and their aggressors. The city’s most right-wing newspaper columnists and ‘shock jocks’ seized this as proof of a chauvinistic backwardness that typified Australian Lebanese males. After the Bali bombings of October 2002. terrorist leanings. police scaled up their counter-terrorism measures: they raided homes. when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. Mainstream media quickly linked the case to several other ‘similar’ incidents. intelligence bureaus and journalists. confiscated goods and questioned community leaders. and this troubled Cronulla locals. Many worried that. the more prepared many were to redefine Australia’s ‘imagined community’ accordingly.382 cultural geographies 17(3) impression: two young Anglo women in the Bankstown region were gang-raped.23 A discourse of ‘good’ migrants and ‘bad’ migrants emerged. Sydney’s southwest was increasingly associated with religious extremism. mostly ‘Caucasian’ women in this area (Sydney’s southwest) by young men invariably described as ‘Middle Eastern’ or ‘Lebanese-Muslim’. Cronulla represents a particular kind of Australianness. equated the rapists’ motives with their race and background.27 For these reasons.sagepub. and disaffected youth. The ‘insular peninsula’ On 11 December 2005.22 The link between Muslims and crime was further normalized. the sensationalist rhetoric was patently wrong. mostly Australian-Lebanese-Muslim. Cronulla is also a short train-trip from the closest Sydney has to an Islamic hub: the southwest. and the more that Muslims were associated with disloyalty and disorder.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. An angry exchange a week earlier between off-duty Surf Life Savers – icons in Australian culture28 – and a group of ‘Middle Eastern’ men was pivotal to precipitating violence: fed up and frustrated. and on the cultural identity of the perpetrators.24 With Canberra committed to the US-led ‘War on Terror’. allegedly made racist insults during the attacks.26 Particularly after the terrorist bombings in Madrid in March 2004. locals vowed to reclaim the beach to its rightful owners. the rape of young. 2012 . mostly by men of Lebanese-Muslim background. though. As it transpired. these ‘outsiders’ had consistently displayed a machismo disregard for the local beachgoers. the protest became a daylong riot. a crowd of 5000 converged on Cronulla beach in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire to protest against what many considered years of anti-social behaviour. Stories of unwelcome advances and sexual intimidation had circulated. on the issue of sex crimes in the Bankstown region. With dramatic indifference to citizens’ rights. Rumours spread and resentment escalated.
when one of them pointed out that the Australian flag brandished before him was his flag as well.40 and while it is unclear how much credit Bingle could take for the turnaround (she was accompanied by Tourism Minister Fran Bailey. she found shelter in a small beach kiosk. he hired Micheline Bernardini. As the racist. the tourism bureau sent Bingle to London. As Bingle’s mother remarked on her departure. In March 2006. One of the main selling points was Lara Bingle. it will be fine’. Downloaded from cgj. ‘bloody’ was one of them. nationalist chants became louder and more menacing. the later hints at a regressive. farmer Fred Hughes.Khamis 383 simmered in Sydney generally. so an element of frisson has not disappeared entirely. the difference is between the blithe hedonism of the modern beach setting. the ‘weekend tourists’ – Muslim men from Sydney’s southwest – ‘come here and stand around the sea baths ’cos their women have got to swim in clothes and stuff. Bikinis are a common sight. lithe or uninhibited. and progressive Australia. ‘I’m sure once they see Lara. it is found on beaches. it remains the smallest ensemble most women would or could wear in public. sunny Sydney was anything but postcard-pretty.34 It took a few years for the bikini to shake its risqué connotations. and by such reckoning.33 designer Jacques Heim had so much trouble finding a professional model who would brave the skimpy style. and this perception in turn carried an array of assumptions. they are not worn exclusively by the young. 2012 .sagepub.35 but by the mid 1960s the bikini was a popular choice across Western Europe and North America. for once. but only Bingle achieved and sustained celebrity status. it appeared the most ambitious of intersections. the episode turned her into a major star in Australia. a former nude model. alcohol-fuelled day. the bikini has evolved from a fashion statement to a national icon. but rendered ordinary by the breadth of their appeal. By this logic. As it turned out. Tourism Australia launched a high-profile international television campaign to lure tourists to Australia’s shores.38 Desperate to save the (AU) $180 million campaign in one of its key markets. That’s not Australian’. The bikini may have tested public decency once: at its launch in Paris in 1946. a clash exists in the semiotic space between the bikini and the veil: where the former bespeaks a liberal. open-minded. so where the bloody hell are you’. expectations and – as this paper argues – misconceptions. The campaign had included other ‘unknowns’.37 Of the 57 words banned in advertisements on British television.30 Two men of Middle Eastern appearance that defied the belligerent crowd were jostled and jeered. That religion-related modesty was raised as one ‘explanation’ for why Muslim men’s behaviour on Cronulla beach was ‘un-Australian’ has major implications. he was beaten. but the relationship between Islam and Australian culture. who met with the key decision-makers in London). It found release in the excitement of a hot.31 This ugly and embarrassing event sent scenes of racist bigotry around the world. or they [say] filthy things to our girls. Blondes and bikinis If there is a sartorial contrast to the veil then. Construed thus. (then) an 18 year-old bikini model from the Sutherland Shire. and the buttoned-up mores of a medieval theocracy. and amateur golfer Peter Kendall. to do the job. and sexist Islam.39 The ban was reversed. In the midst of it all. something as seemingly trivial as dress presented at least one succinct explanation: as one Cronulla local put it. the crowd turned on one Muslim woman. inflexible. like teenage surfer Riley Flanagan.32 As a multicultural exercise. but Cronulla especially. to woo Britain’s Advertising Clearance Centre directly. It is not just the men’s presence on the beach that is queried.41 Despite her ambition to be known beyond the campaign – ‘I don’t really want to be just a bikini girl for the rest of my life’42 – it still leads her public profile. The sub-text was that a typical Australian beach was no place for a typical Muslim female. her bikini was nowhere near as scandalous as her script: ‘We’ve saved you a spot on the beach. in Australia at least.com at University of Bucharest on February 5.36 All the same. In Australia.
Not long after.384 cultural geographies 17(3) Personal charisma aside. not just the Muslim Downloaded from cgj. The BurqiniTM Given the bikini’s place in Australian culture. then. Working from her family home in Punchbowl. Aheda Zanetti’s appropriation of it is all the more audacious. Bingle et al form a deeply resonant but highly circumscribed montage: it points to a specific cultural matrix. and covered the head snugly and neatly. Bingle’s image repeats one of the most salient representations of Australian beach culture: the ‘beach babe’. between 1986 and 2006. She gradually realized that. an agreement had been reached in 2002 to allow female students from Noor Al Houda Islamic College special use of Auburn Swimming Pool: for one hour a day over ten days in mid-winter. the hijab. Particularly over the last three decades.sagepub. and all the traits popularly placed away from the beach. her niece got tired far sooner than her non-veiled peers. the photograph taken in March 1979 of a young Prince Charles at Perth’s Cottesloe beach. Since the hooded garment she had designed for her friend’s wedding gown could be modified for her niece. and a basic hooded vest. with pop celebrity and gay icon Kylie Minogue carried into the arena by a phalanx of camped-up men.46 Most notably.45 the men’s red and yellow briefs were an overt (if slightly subversive) nod to the red and yellow uniforms of Surf Lifesaving Australia. To help make her friend’s wedding gown more modest. but with little success. the bikini helped launch her multimillion-dollar lingerie business. Put simply. news of Zanetti’s swimsuit design spread quickly. and how they dress. Zanetti noticed that the vast majority of wedding gowns sold in Australia required some adjustment for Muslim brides. so she called it a HijoodTM. the Australian marketplace failed many Muslim women. Growing up and living in Sydney’s southwest. the nation’s Muslim heartland. it even worked as a two-piece swimsuit. Macpherson was dubbed ‘The Body’. behave and interact. For Cronulla-born model Elle Macpherson. practices and people. This implied that. even by model standards. This became Zanetti’s foundation piece. Zanetti searched fabric shops for appropriate material.44 Photographed for the front cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue a record five times. in 2004. in several important ways. Muslim women in the area had tried to arrange appropriate swimming arrangements. Zanetti’s family migrated from Lebanon to Australia when she was two years old. Zanetti designed a white satin hood. with a preferred set of principles. her striped bikini not only boosted his glamorous and faintly playboy persona. It suggested a simple solution to what had become a perennial problem in Sydney’s southwest. With the torso lengthened and the addition of pants. What made the hood so attractive (aesthetically and functionally) was its simplicity: it required no pins. sand and skin. This is rendered in several iconic images. the most dramatic innovation in bikini design is courtesy of a Muslim woman whose biography bears none of the hallmarks of a ‘beach babe’. when local model Jane Priest broke protocol to give the royal swimmer a quick kiss. Zanetti attended a netball match in which her 11-year old niece was playing. as she helped a Muslim friend prepare for her wedding. hers was legendary. often (but not always) blonde. For instance. Herein lay Zanetti’s most startling concept. 2012 . For example. Zanetti’s milieu inspired her foray into design. and with the slightest tweaks it worked equally well for other sports. clips or ties. weighed down by her long cloth veil. A more kitsch (but no less calculated) take on the ‘beach babe’ came during the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Minogue’s flirty costume evoked the cheesecake glamour of the 1950s. The subsequent design was a cross between a traditional veil.43 it spoke to the sensual economy of the Australian beach: sun. the public pool was open only to women – all women.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. blue-eyed and bikinied. In these various incarnations of the ‘beach babe’. this picture has underpinned worldwide perceptions of what Australian beach goers looks like. Zanetti noticed that.
86 per cent of club members had at least one parent born in Australia. Satisfied that she met the criteria. so her discretion was sincere. though. over the next few months some Australian observers were more perplexed that 24 year-old Leslie had been a high-profile bikini model. as if one should automatically cancel out the other. and accorded almost unparalleled respect. in September 2005. and with the support of her local Mufti. She struggled to label the style she had designed.sagepub. the fact that up to a third of the people that drowned in Australia each year came from a non-English speaking background showed just how much beach skills varied across the multicultural nation. It was not the first swimsuit designed for Muslim women.49 What puzzled many. for too long. Michelle Leslie was a prominent Australian model that was charged with drug possession in Bali. At stake was the assumption that Muslim women were less likely to appear in public in something that could be classed as a bikini. it was a lot smaller than a burqa. SLA knew that it struggled to connect with certain sections of the Australian public. but was not yet ready to enter the market. Surf Lifesaving Australia (SLA).Khamis 385 students. it was an elegant example of world fashion and married aspects of two very different cultures.55 On top of that. and found bikini defined as ‘a small. in partnership with Sutherland Shire Council and the Federal Department of Immigration and Citizenship (previously Multicultural Affairs). yet had fronted the Indonesian court in a burqa.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. so only she could access and exploit some association with the bikini: this was an irresistible proposition. a symbol of discipline and sacrifice. and was curious to see if there was in fact a contradiction to account for. and many had followed family members into the movement. ‘an implicit invitation to dialogue’. However Zanetti’s advantage was that only her design was two-piece. The program aimed to reach out to those that had felt most alienated by both Downloaded from cgj. prominent and influential Sydney talkback host Alan Jones voiced his extreme opposition to this – ‘they go in there and dive in all their clobber!’47 The outcry from his listeners was so vitriolic that these classes were cancelled within months. She reasoned that. for not entirely unrelated reasons. The drug charges were serious: caught with two Ecstasy pills. On the one hand. her design was two-piece. an assumption that had helped to polarize Islam and Australian culture.52 The BurqiniTM was a confronting reminder that. Still. SLA launched a (AU) $600. the fact that the design did not underplay either of its constituent elements spoke to the democracy of diverse dress. Indonesia. a leotard. Meanwhile. As Zanetti worked on how to best pitch her swimsuit. The BurqiniTM was a cultural revelation. Put another way. and while it protected the wearer’s modesty like a burqa. 2012 . there was growing realization that much of what had been taken for granted in Australian culture required some revision if it was to stay relevant. Zanetti consulted a dictionary.54 SLA was still mostly White and parochial. it was widely deemed proof of one group’s intolerable differences – that is. Leslie faced a maximum gaol term of 15 years. However. two-piece swimsuit’. and elsewhere. is one of the most revered organizations in Australian culture. if the Australian beach was the egalitarian Eden of popular myth. for one. then. the United States and Turkey.000 volunteers in over 300 clubs.51 On the other hand. Zanetti proclaimed her design the BurqiniTM. Lebanese-Muslims from Sydney’s southwest. or clothes) risked such derision from unkind onlookers that many simply forfeited swimming altogether. Leslie insisted that she was a Muslim convert. was that one woman’s image bank could contain both a bikini and a burqa. Seen by many as a flagrant bid for leniency. preceded by similar styles from Egypt. as the design was still un-named. An alleged affront to it was not only cited as a cause for the Cronulla riot. those that dared enter the water in anything other than a swimsuit (say. However. another Muslim woman was making headlines. on the basis of its own pre-riot surveys. Although it had 115.56 After the Cronulla riot.48 Zanetti could therefore expect an eager and grateful clientele. some beachgoers had been more equal than others.50 Zanetti was intrigued by these debates that Leslie had caused.000 program called ‘On the Same Wave’.53 then. like a bikini.
From her tiny headquarters in Sydney’s southwest. Jordanian and Egyptian. and commissioned red and yellow BurqinisTM (Surf Lifesaving’s official colour scheme) for volunteers like Laalaa. 100 years of Surf Lifesaving in Australia. 2012 . Malaysia.386 cultural geographies 17(3) the movement and its privileged place in the Australian psyche – specifically. After the early 2000s. stated thus: ‘While migrants are not expected to leave their traditions behind. Surf Lifesaving Australia requested Zanetti’s involvement. customs and culture. managing editor of Halal Journal. While the economic efficacy of the BurqiniTM is not the main concern here. over 9000 BurqinisTM were sold. and the official unveiling of the BurqiniTM. Qatar. In the worldwide fashion market. the United Kingdom. bureaucratic exercise. the one-year anniversary of the Cronulla riot. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. this had been a mostly procedural. Rip Curl and Mambo have.58 Zanetti was overwhelmed with orders from around the world. it is expected that they embrace Australian values and integrate into the Australian society’.61 The BurqiniTM shows just how malleable the concept of an ‘Australian way of life’ is. but not participants. The graduation ceremony became a three-way celebration: the 90th anniversary of Lakemba Sports Club. ‘On the Same Wave’ was a seminal feat. was less than complete for a growing number of Australian citizens. Downloaded from cgj. The BurqiniTM adds to this successful image in a supremely atypical. Switzerland. her customer base spanned Denmark. it became progressively tilted towards patriotic features. with questions on Australian history. the global market is worth some (US) $96 billion a year. the necessary requirement for lifesavers.sagepub. brands like Billabong. The ethnic mix was revelatory: Lebanese. an area usually associated with socioeconomic disadvantage. Zanetti had heard numerous stories of Muslim women that had been literally sidelined at their local beach: observers. At one point. including 20 year-old Mecca Laalaa. over the last few decades. a veiled Muslim woman. Within a month. and the BurqiniTM was a major part of its success. she halted all online sales for three months.6 billion Muslims dress modestly and spend around (US) $120 annually on modest clothing. the Netherlands. spectators rather than swimmers. For decades. Bahrain. Libyan. According to Kamarul Aznam. Australia’s forte is beach wear.60 The aim was to encourage new arrivals to learn English and to understand the Australian way of life. it will suffice to note that this is a relatively underplayed aspect of Australia’s export potential: the scope for Muslim-oriented goods and services is lucrative. communities in Sydney’s southwest.57 as part of the program. Conclusion Zanetti’s venture into swimwear design coincided with a national conversation about Australian citizenship. the BurqiniTM made a compelling case. On 11 November 2006. Syrian. a day at the beach. Zanetti’s contribution is therefore both culturally challenging and commercially sound. 19 of them graduated. forged a strong international reputation in this niche area. Her participation was made possible only by Zanetti’s swimsuit. and as an aid to cultural integration. but entirely logical and – it must be noted – highly profitable way.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. Testimonials on the BurqiniTM website recount this at length. For these women. Canada.62 The designer’s ingenuity therefore reflects empathy as much as enterprise: one of the most beloved features of Australian culture. like the introduction of a Citizenship Test in 2007. the scale is phenomenal: on his assumption that half the world’s 1. Three months later. the United States. expansive and remarkably elastic. Palestinian. 22 members of Lakemba Sports Club held their first training session at Cronulla beach for their Bronze Medallion. to deal with the numbers she had already attracted in such a short time.59 Zanetti’s innovation is especially fortunate. By mid 2008. though.
though. suggests that the multicultural project still has much promise. accommodating space. At the same time. and its co-option by organizations like Surf Lifesaving Australia. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers. the fact that it conveys a willingness to enjoy a quintessentially Australian pursuit contests the widespread perception of an inevitable and unbridgeable dichotomy. Besides a cautious expansion of the colour palette. Yedida Kalfo.65 The BurqiniTM makes the Australian beach a far more inclusive. 147. 2007. sincere thanks to Aheda Zanetti. p. p. not the novelty and glamour of fashion.M. it is not for ‘cosmopolitan consumption’. p. The idea that the veil enforced women’s inferiority had become a popular refrain. 10–15. Yasmeen. 4 S.64 Instead. 3 July 2008). 181. denial and defiance. Privacy and Resistance (Oxford: Berg. Arthur (ed. Fadwa. 158. Benbow. pp. another fact largely unnoticed by many non-Muslims. for example. 3 C. Arab Dress: A Short History (Leiden. Overland. 1999).) Religion. in Linda B. 2012 . would purchase a BurqiniTM in some politically correct quest for airbrushed exotica. all information about or attributed to the BurqiniTM and/or its designer Aheda Zanetti is drawn from an interview with the author (Sydney. Islam and the Australian beach are not culturally incompatible. 1999). Dress and the Body (Oxford: Berg. H. 2 El Guindi. p. Modest and Active. autonomous and proud presence. Zanetti eschews tampering too much with the original template: comfort and discretion are her primary considerations. They all ensure top-to-toe coverage. ‘Muslim Women as Citizens in Australia: Diverse Notions and Practices’.M. but also how the Australian beach has been imagined. ‘The “Paarda” Expression of Heejab Among Afghan Women in a Non-Muslim Community’. at the very least. 2000). it does not offer the broad market appeal of say ‘World music’ or foreign cuisine. ‘“False Tolerance” or False Feminism? Hijab Controversies in Australia and Germany’. definitions of modesty vary. Australian Journal of Social Issues. the fact that it came from a Lebanese-Muslim woman in Sydney’s southwest shows the abject poverty of dominant stereotypes and assumptions. Veil: Modesty. and exuberance that. and.sagepub. 2005. White multiculturalism. Amongst Muslim women. reflects nuances in the Muslim market more than anything else. Zanetti’s range thus allows for degrees of looseness.63 It cannot be corralled with other forms of ‘safe’. it communicates an assertive.66 The BurqiniTM complicates this tendency further yet: it symbolizes a bold temerity. in the midst of terrorist anxieties.com at University of Bucharest on February 5. 143. but not exposure. 42(1). The BurqiniTM’s promotional material suggests none of the Orientalist sensuality or enigmatic subservience that so often accompanies marketing associated with Muslim women. and decorative prints are heat-pressed onto the chest area to guarantee that even this famously erogenous zone is fully concealed. the popularity of the BurqiniTM. Acknowledgements For her time and cooperation with research for this article. 48. It is unlikely that urban sophisticates. Stillman. Even this.Khamis 387 As much as the BurqiniTM reflects a faceted identity. Herein lay the recurring paradox in how the veil had been framed in Australian public discourse: as a signifier of oppression and dissention. For the feedback on an earlier draft of this article. and although the Cronulla riot of 2005 remains a regrettable blight on Australian history. Downloaded from cgj. Daly. The Netherlands: Brill. The main concession to personal taste is the three fits the BurqiniTM comes in: Slim. few members of Zanetti’s wider community expressed in public. Notes 1 Unless indicated otherwise. and challenges not only how Muslim women are perceived.
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