My daughter and I were perusing the aisles of Target last month — looking at towels and toys and all sorts of home goods I didn’t need — when we came across a rack of bathing suits. A rack of two-piece bathing suits. My daughter, who loves to swim, turned to me and asked if she could get a new one. “My bathing suit is so old,” she whined. “It’s tiny and uncomfortable.” She paused. “And… and my belly doesn’t show. I want a belly show,” she declared. “All of my friends have belly shows,” she added, before clasping her hands beneath her chin and breaking out the puppy eyes.
“Please,” she whined. “Pretty please.”
I took a deep breath. Was she ready? Was I? I mean, my daughter had rocked two-piece bathing suits before but they were tankinis, not bikinis. Her belly barely peeked out. But these suits? They seemed grown. Sophisticated. Mature. But as I inspected the garments, I realized they weren’t. Covered in rainbows and clouds and colorful unicorns, they were kids’ bathing suits — through and through — and my initial reaction, while visceral, was rooted in my insecurities, not hers. I was listening to years of oppressive messaging I had heard about what makes a girl a girl, and a woman a woman. And it was crap. Hell, it still is. Because there is nothing wrong with a child wearing a bikini, or a two-piece bathing suit. It is natural. Many are no more revealing than a gymnast’s outfit or dance costume.
Of course, bikinis have long been a subject of controversy. The swimsuit was banned in beauty pageants in the 1950s. It was seen as too provocative. Too revealing. Too risque. Around the same time, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, as well as Belgium and Australia prohibited individuals from wearing the item. Their reasoning? Bikinis were immoral and indecent. They threatened social and religious norms, and today, many (still) admonish the bikini. Those who wear the “sexy” swimsuit are deemed attention-seeking.
So why then did I decide to let my seven-year-old daughter wear a bikini? Why do I let my baby girl bare her shoulder blades and belly? Because saying no would have implied these parts of her body were bad, that they should be hidden. It would have implied that she was bad. It also would have wreaked havoc on her confidence, and I want my daughter to carry herself without guilt or shame. I want her to feel bold and brazen and empowered at all times.
There are other reasons, too. I let my daughter wear a bikini because it is something she wants to wear. Because I firmly believe it is her body, her choice. I let my daughter wear a bikini because she feels confident in them. Because they make her feel good about herself, and I want her to own her identity. I want her to love the skin she is in. And I let my daughter wear a bikini because it is just that: a bikini. I’m not going to place an inordinate amount of weight on her apparel. On summer clothes. Plus, two-piece bathing suits fit my daughter better. She is lean, and one-piece suits tend to bunch around her midsection. They have more fabric than she needs. Oh, and they make bathroom breaks so much easier. Seriously. I cannot overstate how simple it is.
That said, some believe I am sexualizing my seven-year-old. Some would say I am making her grow up too fast, but if you have erotic thoughts about a child, the problem isn’t her two-piece — it’s you. Period. End of gross fucking discussion. Normal people don’t look at children in a sultry, sexy, or sensual way. Plus, my daughter is not looking to attract attention with a bikini. She simply wants to be cute and fun. To swim, and to feel the sun on her skin.
So stop shaming me — and my daughter — for being comfortable and confident. For being young enough to face the world fearlessly — and to (quite literally) jump into the deep end of what for many is a scary pool. Stop shaming me and my daughter for knowing and wearing what we like, parental police be damned. And stop shaming my daughter for having (and baring) her belly. She isn’t sexy; she’s seven and she loves the skin she is in, and I’m going to do my best to keep it that way.