Australian medical student Zeynab Alshelh, 23, has been wearing a burqini to swim in — without incident — since she was a teenager, so she was shocked when she saw the efforts of local mayors in the south of France to ban the garments.
Such was her curiosity, she made a journey to the Riviera, accompanied by an Australian current affairs television crew “to speak to the [affected] girls and see first hand what the issue was,” she told HuffPost Australia.
Her experiment on the beach at Villeneuve-Loubet was met with hostility, when locals suggested she and her family leave the beach or face the police. Alshelh insists her action was not intended to be “inflammatory.”
Local mayors introduced fines in August on wearing the full-body swimsuits, saying they were a symbol of Islam and potentially provocative after the July terror attack in Nice.
“I wasn’t nervous to wear the burqini at all — maybe I should’ve been but I had never experienced any head-on abuse in Australia and I genuinely believed that people all over the world are tolerant and just nice,” Alshelh said. “I just find it so hard to understand how some people think it’s okay to prevent someone from going to a public area like the beach.”
The burqini originated in Australia, where it was created by Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, and has even been embraced by the nation’s surf lifesaving association. Contrary to the concerns of the French mayors, she sees the garment as a symbol of cultural integration. “It is as Australian as you can get,” she has said of the swimwear.