“Are you allowed to wear a swimming suit here?”. An European-looking guy approaches me on the Salmiya beach. I am wearing swimming shorts and a t-shirt, so I am a little confused about his question, not wearing a bathing suit myself. “Ehm.. yeah sure, why not?”, I reply. I can’t tell him with certainty, but I don’t think there is any law prescribing what you can and can’t wear at the beach in Kuwait. There has been talk of banning the bikini some time ago, but as far as I know nothing has come of it, and bikinis are still not bathing suits. Having the burkini debate in Europe in mind, I can’t help smiling about the irony: everywhere in this world people are trying to tell other people (more specifically: women) what kind of clothing they should or shouldn’t wear.
Women are altogether a rare sight at Kuwait’s public beaches. The past week I have spent almost every single day at the beach, but I was often the only girl. During the day it’s mostly single or groups of men frequenting the beach, some of them very frequent visitors like myself – I already start recognizing faces. At the end of the afternoon and the beginning of the evening sometimes women come out to the beach as well, usually with their families. The time for swimming is then long past already, and they wear their normal clothes. On only a handful of occasions I have seen women in the water, but their dress ranged from a burkini to a bathing suit (well, only once). Swimming clothes here come in all sorts of varieties, and there is not one rule that says what is best.
The past week has been quite interesting. I have received multiple declarations of love, have been asked for my number, my appearance has been commented upon in admiring tone, and I have been invited to ride a jet ski or to go to another place. I have also had interesting conversations with locals, but admittedly, those were not the majority of the cases. One does not see many girls alone at a public beach here, and I was going to attract attention one way or another anyway – regardless of whether I would have chosen the bikini, the bathing suit or the burkini. Nonetheless, bikinis don’t seem to be suitable beach wear here at public beaches, so swimming shorts and t-shirt it was.
A girl wishing to wear a bikini in Kuwait should however not despair. Despite the country’s rather strict codes there are plenty of places where wearing a bikini is absolutely no problem at all. These are the private beaches, often belonging to hotels, or specialized beach clubs. One pays a few KDs, and suddenly you can wear whatever beach wear you’d like, without facing any of the above situations from the public beach. Do not take the private beaches for bikini-only places though. Burkinis and bikinis are mingling here!
The public beach has rather a bad reputation, as there are few girls, and your dress is a bit more restrictive. One or two friends warned me against going there. But I have to say that despite all of the above situations, I hardly ever felt uncomfortable at the public beach. The majority of the men do not bother you at all, and the ones that do come up to talk to you are often polite and not really disturbing you much. Although one or two tried to test my limits, they did take a rejection rather well, compared to situations I know from other countries. And I’ve already met more locals here at the beach in Salmiya than I’ve meet during my six-month internship two years ago. So I guess I will be going again tomorrow!
Photo credits: Simon Chapman (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)