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Nella Rose, Modest Swimwear, and the Necessary Discourse Across France and Feminism

by Keisha Myers

The discourse surrounding religious freedom and expression has been a source of contention in France for many years now, where staunch secularism often clashes with efforts for people to express their own religiosity. 


French laws designed to prevent the spread of religious beliefs to help with freedom, sometimes inadvertently restrict individuals’ freedom to practise their faith, marginalising them in French society and leading to discrimination of tourists and locals alike.

 


Recently, this has become a hot topic in the influencer world, when Topicals (a black-owned skincare brand) organised a trip for 20 influencers of colour to the French Mountain Resort of Megeve. Among them was Nella Rose, a Belgian-born, UK based, popular influencer who is fluent in French. 


Nella Rose shared with her million followers that during their stay, a staff member at the resort approached some of them, advising against their choice of attire and suggesting they purchase bikinis and bathing suits from the in-house shop. 


The women were dressed in modest swimwear, commonly worn by Muslims women, with the hope that they can feel comfortable and covered while still being able to enjoy public pools and beaches, mirroring the experiences that non-Muslim individuals are granted seamlessly.

 

There was an extremely strong reaction to Nella’s post and people were rightfully outraged about the humiliation that these women experienced in what was supposed to be a fun trip. 


A spokesperson for Topicals subsequently confirmed that the influencers had faced discrimination, harassment, and threats of police involvement. 

 

This incident will not be the only of its kind, but luckily these women felt confident enough to share their experience, and warn other women of the danger that you can be placed in when simply trying to enjoy a holiday. 


This really highlights the complex intersection of cultural norms, religious practices and personal freedoms. 


France’s secular principles seek to maintain a neutral public sphere, but is this worth the cost of impeding individuals’ right to express their religious identities freely? 


The encounter at the resort has further highlighted the challenges that are faced by those whose attire or practices diverge from the mainstream, and how excluded these women will feel. 


In the modern world, religious expression should not lead to exclusion and marginalisation. Those of all beliefs should be able to dress comfortably, modest clothing isn’t just worn by religious people. 


The forceful nature of the resort’s ‘suggestion’ to wear less clothes is something which seems completely backwards, a prime example of how women are still having how they treat their bodies constantly attacked by men and governments. 

 

Influencer culture can amplify the impact of incidents like these, individuals like Nella with large followings wield significant power in shaping public perceptions and discourse. 


Nella Rose’s decision to share the experience on social media not only raised awareness of the issue but also sparked further discussions about religious freedom, cultural sensitivity and discrimination in contemporary society. Nella Rose was not wearing modest swimwear herself, but chose to use her platform to stick up for the rights of other women, in a way that could have had a negative impact on her, but she did so anyway. 


Women vouching for each other and helping each other have the freedom that they desire is one of the ways these situations can be softened and lifted, and Nella Rose has exemplified this. 

 

This incident serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle of balancing religious freedom with secular principles. 


Fostering inclusive environments where individuals of all faiths and values are allowed to express themselves does much greater than creating resentment from people of religious backgrounds. 


Discourse about the eradication of religion has been in feminist discourse for a long time and we cannot truly reach freedom from oppression until we accept that beliefs can be differing. 


Describing "Religion” as “the institution that has historically been most effective at legitimising and maintaining patriarchy." (Carol P. Christ), may have worked in getting women to desire more recognition in religious communities, but a blanket ban on religious expression will maintain the idea that people cannot make their own decisions, and poses a dystopian future for the people of France.


Edited by Emily Duff

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