I hate swimsuit season. Unlike most women though, it is not because of my body but my daughter's. At only 8 years old, we get into the same debate every year and every year it ends the same -- I will not allow my daughter to wear a bikini. This is one of my truly firm, "not while you are in my house" rules.
To me, bikinis have two major flaws: they sexualize girls and they make them more self-conscious about their bodies.
Sexualization of girls
Bikinis are sexy because they show more flesh than is usually acceptable in public areas. Women wear bikinis because they want to be looked at. Perhaps they don't want to be gawked at, but they are wearing them to catch an onlooker's eye. The same goes for low-cut tops, high- cut skirts and skin-tight clothes. I am not of the mindset that these girls are "asking for it," but I do believe that there is a sense of false advertising if you want to show off your body (or your daughter's body) but still expect to be treated with modesty.
One could argue that the bikini, like the other flashy attire above, just makes a woman feel prettier, but why does it make her feel that way? Because people are looking! If buck teeth suddenly became the "in" thing, we'd all go by some plastic ones out of the coin machine and flash a smile to anyone who would notice. The idea is to be admired and found attractive.
Make no mistake about it, my daughter is a skinny girl. She could wear a bikini and no one would say she had no business being in public in it. (And if she's anything like her momma, she will develop early and fill out that top pretty quickly too.) Right now she obsesses over her hair and face because that is what others see and judge her by. She notices her freckles and her glasses. She does not look like everyone else in her class, and that sometimes bothers her.
The more of her body that is shown, the more she will judge herself. At the pool this weekend, I saw two teenagers putting down their own bodies while they strutted in their bikinis. One said she hated how her ribs poked out and the other said she felt like she needed to lose 10 more pounds. The hormone-driven boys nearby didn't care for sure, they were enjoying the show, but if a bikini shows off more skin for a girl to be self-conscious of... why do it? Why put a kid through that kind of self torment?
A note to manufactures
Few things tick me off more than heading to the store to buy my child cute and age-appropriate clothing only to find that everything is designed way too short and flashy for a modest young girl. During the summer, that means a department overrun by cute bikinis and shorts that barely cover her panties. The latest swimsuit styles are limited to two pieces. Peace signs, hearts, tie-dye -- all two pieces. My daughter could choose between solid pink, solid purple or Hello Kitty. The other five -- yes 5! -- racks of little girls swimsuits were bikinis. I don't understand!
Wake up Moms!
As women, we complain about the ads that show an unreal image of what women should look like. We cover our faces with makeup, and we watch every morsel we put in our mouths so we can still fit into our tight little skirts. We notice every wrinkle, every pound and every blimish. So why, oh why, are we passing along that same issue to our kids before they are even old enough to know what sexy is? At 8, my daughter doesn't even know WHY a man is looking her way. Isn't it my job to protect her?
We are defining attractive for our own kids both in what we wear and what we buy them. My daughter is smart, beautiful, and carefree, and I believe I will keep her that way as long as possible. If covering her body more helps with that, I am all for it.
Follow Jamie Anne Richardson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JAnneRichardson