Should little girls wear bikinis?
Maybe you’ve seen the summer meme going around on Social Media. It goes like this. Want a bikini body? The process is simple:
Step One: Have a body.
Step Two: Wear a bikini.
Right? Hooray for body acceptance!
Yet, as is the case with many feminized objects, it’s not quite that simple. The notion of women craving the elusive “bikini body” is indeed troubling, but so are the layers of symbolism that swirl around those tiny pieces of fabric.
For adult women, the bikini is often associated with fitness, femininity, and sexuality. The bikini has come to represent more than an apparel choice. Some women wear it as a badge of honor, some wear it as a statement, while others simply wear it to go swimming. Whatever it may mean to the woman wearing it, the bikini is interpreted in different ways by those who see her in it.
Since most men in the US wear swim trunks on the beach, male swimsuit selection essentially presents as a non-issue. This double standard… the high scrutiny of women’s swimwear choice and the neutrality of men’s… impacts some of even the youngest beach-goers.
In my 16 years of parenting, I’ve heard exactly zero conversations about what type of swimsuit a little boy ought to wear to the beach. But I’ve had many conversations with parents about allowing their little girls to wear a bikini. It’s contentious territory, and I’ve encountered three main schools of thought:
Some parents simply see the bikini as an adorable style. They worry much less about what it means and much more about what looks “cute.” The bikini to them is like any other piece of clothing their daughter has- they choose it based on style and how it looks on their daughter. Some wore bikinis themselves as young girls, and some lament that they ‘wish they could wear one now.’
For other parents, the bikini has a seductive rep, and therefore should be saved for older girls, teenagers, womanhood, or just… never. They see the bikini as a symbol of sexuality and believe that putting one on their five, six, or seven year old daughter is akin to sexualizing her at a young age. They see the delay or denial of a bikini as preserving their daughter’s childhood.
And for some parente, the bikini is merely a swimsuit that their daughter chooses to wear It’s simply an article of clothing, and they believe it is their daughter’s right to decide what goes on her body. They refuse to allow adults to sexualize the bathing suit choice of a young girl. They see the acceptance of the bikini as a point of liberation. Their mantra, “What I wear is not who I am.”
So which camp am I in? I will confess, I find have spent time in all three. I used to be a Preservationist, until my five year old started begging to wear a bikini on the beach. Then I found my inner Feminist and thought, why the hell can’t she wear one? It covers what needs to be covered and it’s her body. I’ve even dabbled in the Aesthete camp because… it’s pretty fun to style-shop for bikinis.
We now spend entire summers at the shore. And this being the third straight summer of the ‘kini in or house, it’s become a swimsuit like any other (but much easier to navigate while going to the bathroom). The conflict only arises when we encounter parents of other girls who ask, “You let her wear a bikini? My husband would never let our daughter wear one so young!”
Does age matter? Does your child wear a bikini?