In the summer of 2016, around 30 French cities banned the burkini—swimwear used by Muslim women that covers the entire body and head—from public beaches. French authorities supported the ban by claiming that the burkini was unhygienic, a uniform of Islamic extremism, and a symbol of women’s oppression. Muslim head-coverings, including the burkini, are religious objects whose materiality points to complex semantic meanings often mediated in Internet discourses. Through a qualitative analysis of visual and textual narratives against the burkini ban circulated by Muslim women, this article looks at the way digitalmedia practices help counteract stereotypes and gain control of visual representations. Muslim women focus on two main topics: 1) they challenge the idea of Muslims being ‘aggressors’ by describing the burkini as a comfortable swimsuit not connected with terrorism; 2) they refuse to be considered ‘victims’ by showing that the burkini holds different meanings that do not necessarily entail women’s submission. Muslim women’s digital narratives positively associate the materiality of the burkini with safety and freedom and focus on secular values rather than religious meanings.

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Journal of Contemporary Religion
Department of Media and Communication