The burkini is the world’s most controversial swimwear. With full-length arms and legs and a head covering, it’s favoured by beach-going Muslim women around the world.
But while far from revealing, it is incredibly provocative, particularly in France, where it was banned on 30 beaches as a knee-jerk response to the rise in Islamic extremism.
Outraged by such blatant discrimination, Zeynab Alshelh, 23, a medical student from Sydney, packed her burkini and flew to France to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim women. But although the ban was recently lifted by the country’s highest administrative court, the backlash from locals was swift.
As shown on Channel 7’s Sunday Night programme, it was only a matter of minutes before Alshelh and her mother were approached by locals who made rude comments, told them to leave and even threatened to call police.
For her, such a reaction represents more than casual racism – it’s “dangerous”.
“It starts off at the beach and God knows where it ends,” Alshelh said.
“It’s hard to be proud of a country who rejects you and whose laws allow the general public to discriminate against you. It’s really difficult.”
Alshelh on a French Riveria beach. Image: Channel 7.
Dozens of beachfront resorts temporarily banned the swimwear in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Nice earlier this year - a decision that attracted headlines around the world. It was the latest in a series of regulations on overtly Islamic clothing in the country, and followed on from a complete, nation-wide ban of the burqa in 2010.
Alshelh, who has been wearing a hijab since she was 10 years old, believes that any association between clothing worn by millions and the actions of a radicalised few is utterly absurd.
"There shouldn't be a connection between terrorism and the burkini and there shouldn't be a connection between terrorism and Islam altogether," Alshelh said.
Locals were unimpressed by Alshelh's choice of swimwear. Via Channel 7.
The burkini's Australian creator, Aheda Zanetti, is just as baffled by the uproar her simple design has caused.
"It is as Australian as you can get, it was born in Australia and it started off in Australia and it's the name, the way that the name was put together was very Australian so it is pretty Australian," Aheda told Sunday Night.
"I was quite shocked. I think they misunderstood. Why would they ban something when I designed a swimsuit that was part of integration within Australian lifestyle?"
Another popular argument against such clothing is that it represents the oppression of Muslim women, but Alshelh couldn't disagree more.
"I just find it ridiculous," said Alshelh. "It is a symbol of my faith, it is a symbol of my religion, it is a symbol of Islam and to go out there and wear the hijab, it helps people focus on what’s inside rather than what’s on the outside."