Bikini vs. Hijab: Choosing My Wardrobe in a Muslim Country

Bikini vs. Hijab: Choosing My Wardrobe in a Muslim Country

foreign-correspondent badge final“Your first time wearing a two-piece bathing suit in public since early elementary school and you chose Indonesia to do it,” one of my friends laughed in disbelief as we strategically planned our sprint into the pool. The two other interns and I had envisioned tourist beaches in Bali–not a swimming pool in Yogyakarta–as the destined location for our swimming attire.

So, when we made plans to spend our day off swimming, we realized we would face an unfavorable situation. The other people lounging around the pool area wore conservative dress and many of those in the water were wearing hijabs. We cowered by the edge of the pool with our clothes over our swimwear, feeling like we were about to scandalize the surrounding people with our two-piece bikinis.

Wardrobe in a Muslim Country
Winona wearing a hijab in Indonesia

My experiences here have also given me another opportunity entirely: to realize that I am so much more than my outer appearance.

“I’m just going for it,” I announced to no one in particular as I quickly stripped off my remaining clothes and started a mutual frenzy as the three of us sprinted toward the water. We looked around, surveying our damage after our escape into the pool, and realized that we seemed to have avoided scarring anyone. A few of the younger male attendants around the pool definitely were not being shy with their gaze, but otherwise life went on.

The Muslim call to prayer played in the background as we floated around in the pool. Serving as a multi-daily reminder of the morals and principles of the culture I’ve surrounded myself in, I am always surprised at what I find myself doing when it begins to play. Right then, I was in public wearing a bikini. At other times, I am in conservative clothes, wearing a hijab while visiting an Islamic boarding school for my work.

I felt simultaneously self conscious and liberated in my two-piece suit, just as I do at other times here while wearing long sleeves, a long skirt, and a head scarf.

But regardless of what I’m doing or what I’m wearing I stand out. It’s hard to blend in here as a large, blindingly pale American with a head full of curls that gives a new meaning to volume in the Indonesian heat.

I felt simultaneously self conscious and liberated in my two-piece suit, just as I do at other times here while wearing long sleeves, a long skirt, and a head scarf. My experiences here have also given me another opportunity entirely: to realize that I am so much more than my outer appearance. So instead of feeling like an outsider, I embrace it. Instead of acting camera shy, I let kids run up to me and take photographs with the white foreigner. I strike a pose, and in that moment I appreciate the positive attention I’m getting for being exactly who I am.

 

wearing a bathing suit in indonesia
Going for the bikini in Indonesia

Bikini vs. Hijab: Choosing My Wardrobe in a Muslim Country

Have you traveled to Indonesia? How was your trip? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Bikini vs. Hijab: Choosing My Wardrobe in a Muslim Country photo credits: Winona V.

About Winona Vaitekunas

Winona VaitekunasWinona can currently be found in Indonesia either at her internship at a local interfaith non-governmental organization or out galavanting around Yogyakarta and trying to remember why, despite preferring icy temperatures, she managed to fall in love with Southeast Asia.

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