it was an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikini, that she wore for the first time today

Earlier this spring, Gwyneth Paltrow got much flack for posting bikinis for little girls on her you-wish-you-could-be-me website, Goop. While there is a burgeoning online industry dedicated to roundly mocking every single thing Gwyneth Paltrow does- an industry of which I am an avid consumer- I am also basically totally very very close with Gwyneth, as this parking lot encounter from 2008 will attest. (My son Connor stalked Apple with knock-knock jokes. One of my favorite blog posts ever. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.)

But while I enjoy a good Paltrow-da-fé as much as the next gal, I thought this particular criticism- that two-piece bathing suits for little girls represent “a dangerous sexualization of children”– was a little silly. Little girls don’t look sexy in two-piece suits, they look…the opposite of sexy. They look cute. Like little girls. (Unless they’re wearing the padded triangle top Abercrombie & Fitch was peddling to seven-year-olds a few years back, which approximately one hundred percent of those surveyed agreed: totally gross.)

I had never bought my five-year-old daughter a two-piece bathing suit, because her pale Irish skin needs more protection than that. But when she received a few bikinis as hand-me-downs from a very well-dressed friend, I let her wear them, and thought she looked adorable, and that was that.

Until last night, after bathtime, when I laid out what Maggie would wear to camp the next day.  T-shirt, shorts, and a two-piece bathing suit for underneath. Maggie regarded my choice warily.

MAGGIE: Mom. I like two-piece bathing suits? But I don’t like to wear them in, you know. Public places.

ME: What did you say?

MAGGIE: Public places. That’s places that a lot of people go. I’ll wear them, like, at home, but not where anyone can see me.

ME: Why, honey?

Maggie patted her stomach. Her perfect, round, little girl belly.

MAGGIE: Right here.

My daughter doesn’t want people to see her in two-piece bathing suits because she doesn’t like the way her body looks in them. Although her body looks EXACTLY THE WAY IT SHOULD.

I thought it was silly to suggest that bikinis for little girls made them look sexy. Now I understand that it’s a little bit more complicated: bikinis for little girls might suggest to them that they are supposed to look sexy, and do not. Why wait till puberty to start hating your body when you can get started in kindergarten?

I told Maggie her body was perfect the way it was. That someday she would have a stomach that looked like a grownup’s, but that wouldn’t happen for a long time. And that she could wear whatever she wanted.

But I’m left with a small pit in my stomach that won’t go away. My daughter is getting messages about her body image already, and they suck, and they’re wrong, and they will mess with her head from now on.

And she’s beautiful.

And she’s five.

 

 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

JD @ Honest Mom June 29, 2013 at 2:25 am

I have two daughters (7 and 4) and I am dreading the day when a similar conversation comes up. My 7yo doesn’t like to wear two piece bathing suits because she said she’d feel like “she’s walking around in underwear and that’s embarrassing.” (Which I thought was adorably funny.) I’m glad she hasn’t yet said she doesn’t like something about herself. But her dislike of her body is going to come up someday. And I will break a little inside when it does.

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amywlsn June 29, 2013 at 9:25 pm

It is heartbreaking, especially when it happens so soon. I think I’ll be giving away the two-pieces. Hello Land’s End!

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alexandra June 29, 2013 at 4:11 am

Amy, I have no daughters, only three boys. Who have no concern about their physical appearance. Where do you think such young girls are hearing this? Is it magazines? Is it from FB and movies? I don’t remember not liking my body until after I had children, and my stomach was distended… but I grew up during a time when there were only three channels on television, no cable, few magazines, and NO ONLINE LIFE.

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amywlsn June 29, 2013 at 10:23 pm

I think our obsession with bikini bodies and baby bumps and all that gets more ridiculous by the year. I cringe at the ads my daughter and I pass all the time, in store windows and on bus shelters… I wouldn’t have thought it was affecting her just yet, though. Until now.

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Virginia June 29, 2013 at 11:36 am

I just typed the most depressing comment ever. I’m taking it back. It sucks, this skewed perception of what a body should look like. And there’s not a ton that we can do about it as parents, other than acceptance, acceptance, acceptance. Of ourselves and the people around us as much as our kids, I think. Mostly, I want to smack the parents who teach their kids to judge mine based on their looks, but that’s not particularly acceptable. Right?

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amywlsn June 29, 2013 at 10:24 pm

acceptance! Yes. I never say “omigod I’m so fat” or “I hate my legs” or whatever, in front of any of my kids. If they make fun of my own slightly distended belly, I laugh and say well yes it’s true and if you have three kids you might get one too.

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Kathy at kissing the frog June 29, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Ugh, this makes me sad. I don’t have daughters, and I was always sad about that. The more I read posts like this, the more I’m glad I don’t. I had horrible self-esteem my whole life, despite having the most loving, supportive parents. Now my boys, who are 5 and 7 will say things about themselves, and I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe looking around at what others can do and think they are not as fast, can’t hit a baseball as hard? I’m not sure, but I know I would have such a hard time dealing with a daughter’s insecurity and heartbreak.

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amywlsn June 29, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I was worried about having a daughter because I thought there’d be more stuff like this to navigate. Guess I was right.

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Frammitz June 30, 2013 at 1:24 am

That makes my heart sad.

Kids see everything, and there is so much messaging out there. Even if your daughter is shielded, her peers will not be, and it will be translated to her as a social norm. Better to talk to her about it.

I think you gave her the right message. I would leave the 2-pieces in the drawer until she outgrows them, though. Maybe she will want to wear them around the house.

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Leigh Ann June 30, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I remember this feeling, and I was probably about the same age. An aunt had given me a cute gingham bikini with lacy trim (like 80s gingham and lace, not creepy sexy lace), and I refused to wear it because I thought I was too fat. I’ve always had weight issues, but at 5? I shouldn’t have cared.

My twins are 5, and this scares the pants off me. They’re so beautiful and perfect just the way they are.

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