Are bikinis appropriate for little girls?

     (Courtesy of Jen Bradley)

    (Courtesy of Jen Bradley)

    Maybe you’ve seen some variation of this going around on social media. 

    Want to have a bikini body? Here’s how:

    Step one: Have a body.Step two: Wear a bikini.

    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. 

    Since most men in the U.S. wear swim trunks on the beach, male swimsuit selection is essentially a nonissue. This double standard — the high scrutiny of a woman’s swimwear choice and the neutrality of of a man’s — impacts 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.

    ‘It’s cute’

    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, chosen based on style and how it looks on their daughter. Some wore bikinis themselves as young girls.

    ‘Too young’

    For other parents, the bikini has a seductive reputation, 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 young 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.

    ‘Just a swimsuit’

    And for some parents, 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 have spent time in all three. I used to think bikinis were only for older girls or women, until my five year old started begging to wear a bikini on the beach. Then I thought, “why the hell can’t she wear one?” It covers what needs to be covered and it’s her body.

    Plus, bikinis are cute, and it’s fun to go shopping for one.

    We now spend entire summers at the shore. And this being the third straight summer of the bikini in our house, it’s become a swimsuit like any other (but much easier to navigate while going to the bathroom).

    It really only comes up now when we encounter parents of other girls who say, “You let her wear a bikini? My husband would never let our daughter wear one so young!”

    Does age matter? Does your daughter wear a bikini?

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