When I was a kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old, my college-aged “cool” aunt came into town with a gift for me. It was a bikini. An itsy bitsy, teeny-weeny, super sexy bikini that no child would have had any business wearing. In fact, my parents made it quite clear that while I could keep it, I would never be allowed to strut around in public in it.
I didn’t care. I loved that bikini, keeping it tucked away in my underwear drawer and pulling it out every few months to see if my non-existent boobs could fill out the top yet.
By the time they did, my hips had more than filled out the bottoms—they no longer fit at all. But again, I didn’t care. Because to me that bikini stood for something: being, and looking, older than I was and being the cool girl I saw my aunt to be.
Since that point in time, I can’t remember ever owning a swimsuit that wasn’t a bikini. Even through bouts of body image issues and times when I haven’t been too stoked to be half naked in front of anyone, I’ve maintained that if I am going to be near a body of water—it is going to be in a bikini. Because that’s what cool girls wear.
I still sort of feel that way, refusing to succumb to the one-piece because it feels like it might be just one step away from the skirted mom swimsuit, even though I now often find myself being one of the only moms in the pool with her stomach on display.
(In defense of other moms, I never gave birth … I might feel differently if I had stretch marks.)
Of all the parenting controversies I knew to look out for, this wasn’t one I had expected.
My love for bikinis extended pretty naturally to my own daughter when she was born. I immediately purchased a yellow polka-dot bikini for her, just because … how freaking adorable was that? I loved suiting her up for playtime at the pool.
What I didn’t love, and what I hadn’t expected, was the negative reaction I might get from strangers over her swimwear.
“My daughter will be in a one-piece as long as I have a say in the matter. It’s about teaching modesty.”
“Don’t you worry that we are just over-sexualizing our daughters way too young?”
“Why the need to make her grow up so fast?”
These were all comments made to me at one point or another in reference to my little girl’s bikini. And each and every time, I found myself practically stunned into silence.
She was just a baby! And then a toddler! There was nothing skimpy or sexual about her bikini. It was just cute. Adorable. Polka-dotted!
And honestly, it was practical. Anyone who has ever changed a swim diaper on a little squirming body, and then tried to pull that one-piece back up, should be able to attest to what a feat that can be. But the bikini? It made diaper changes a breeze!
Of all the parenting controversies I knew to look out for, this wasn’t one I had expected. People having opinions on my daughter’s swimwear and feeling strongly enough about those opinions to express them caught me off guard. Over time, it even made me a little self-conscious.
I knew that my daughter’s bikini wasn’t sexual in nature. I knew that it was just a piece of swimwear. But I also knew that, looking around, she was one of the only little girls at the pool rocking a bikini. Just as her mommy was one of the only mothers doing the same.
So maybe there was something I was missing to this whole argument?
Recently, I had to buy my daughter a new swimsuit. She had finally outgrown the bikini that had lasted her for three summers (another practical benefit of bikinis for littles—growing bodies are able to fit in them for longer!). As I perused the options at Target, there weren’t even any bikinis to choose from; there were just Tankinis and one-pieces on display.
I opted for a tankini. At least it would still have the practicality of easy removal for bathroom breaks. And she would have a suit more likely to keep her covered during pool playtime.
I still don’t feel like there is anything sexual about a bikini on a little girl. But maybe I’m the one who’s wrong here? Maybe the culmination of concerned voices spoke to something I simply don’t understand. Are bikinis on toddlers really so terrible? Or have we become so concerned about hyper-sexualizing our little girls that instead we’re imbuing sexuality into otherwise harmless pieces of apparel?
Photograph by: Leah Campbell