I like to think that I’m a fairly laid-back parent. When my daughter wants to run around wearing nothing but her underwear, I don’t freak out. When my kids do things that are a little dangerous, I stand back and let them learn their own lesson (although I do issue the occasional dire warning to placate my conscience). And I try to avoid making pronouncements about “Kids These Days” and how much harder I had it back in my day. Because, really, I grew up in the late 70s and 80s, things weren’t really that hard. Unless you consider having to wait in a bank line-up to withdraw money hard. Which, come to think of it, I do. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it! Back in my day …
Anyways, back to the point at hand. While I’m fairly laissez-faire in my parenting, when I took my kids shopping for new bathing suits all of my laid-back ways ran smack into the row of skimpy swimwear designed for six-year-old girls. There were many, many bikinis, and my daughter Hannah wanted one really quite a lot. She also liked the one piece suits with cut-outs on the sides. It became very clear to me almost immediately that Hannah and I were operating at cross-purposes. I wanted her to cover as much of herself as possible, and she wanted to cover as little of herself as possible.
An example of a swimsuit with cut-outs on the sides (image courtesy of dovima_is_devine_II on Flickr)
I remember being Hannah’s age, and wanting to wear the same clothes that I saw teenagers wearing. If someone had gotten me six-year-old sized high heels and an itty bitty bikini I would have been all over it. This is what our culture says is attractive, after all, and I wanted to be attractive. Not sexually attractive, but pretty. And I can see that my daughter feels the same way. She just wants to wear the same stuff that adults get to wear, and which she views as aesthetically pleasing.
When we’re talking swimsuits it’s really easy for me to just pull the sun safety card and say that I want as much of my kid’s skin covered as possible so that she doesn’t burn and put herself at increased risk for skin cancer down the road. But the truth is that part of me would want my kid covered whether or not a sunburn was dangerous. As my daughter gets older, I become more concerned about the clothing she wears. I’ve seen baby-sized bikinis, and when an actual baby is wearing them, complete with baby rolls and a diaper, it’s just cute. But at some point, a bathing suit stops being just cute and starts being alluring.
It was much easier when she was this age (image courtesy of emerille on Flickr)
At six years old I wouldn’t say that my daughter’s clothing choices are intended to be alluring or attractive. But as soon as five or six years from now that could be a different story. And as my daughter sits roughly at the halfway mark between infancy and puberty, we’ve reached the point where public nudity is probably not really cute anymore. Especially because, more and more, I’m entrusting her to the care of others and allowing her greater freedom when we venture out in public. Some part of me feels like she’ll be safer if she’s thoroughly covered up.
I have mixed feelings about this reaction, though. On the one hand, I don’t want to blow my six-year-old’s fashion choices out of proportion. And for another, I don’t want to place the onus for avoiding attention of whatever kind on her. The truth is that she can wear whatever makes her comfortable. How other people react is their choice – including me. But on the other hand, I don’t appreciate that the bathing suit manufacturers of the world appear to be conspiring to sexualize my child, and I don’t want my daughter to think that she needs to wear a skimpy swimsuit to be beautiful.
In my day photos were sort of yellowish and the swimsuits didn’t have cut-outs (image courtesy of sflovestory on Flickr)
In the end, I asked Hannah to choose a one-piece bathing suit without cut-outs. I may have played the sun safety card. She found one that she likes, and she picked out a matching hat. She wore it around the house all afternoon, pausing every so often to pose for me, so it’s clearly a hit. I’m glad that it’s a little girl suit for the little girl that she still is. I’m also glad that it’s big enough to fit her for a couple of years, so that I don’t have to face swimsuit shopping with my daughter again until at least 2013 or so. I could use a good long break before I have to face that again.
What about you? Have you ever run into the skimpy swimsuit issue with your own daughter? Do you think that bikinis on six-year-olds are fun or inappropriate? And have you noticed (as I did) that choosing a boy’s suit is ever so much easier? I’d love to hear!