The debate: Should you let your daughter wear a bikini?

Two parents face off on the topic of kids and bikinis.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

“No, you shouldn’t let your daughter wear a bikini”
Erin Petersen, mom of two

I still remember my favourite bathing suit — a hot pink one-piece with a black tiger face that had diamond eyes. I’m told they were actually sequins and not real diamonds, but I was three, so it didn’t matter. I was awesome in that suit.

Thirty years later, I have a little girl of my own, and there are hundreds of adorable swimsuits to choose from. Would I really consider an itsy-bitsy two-piece for my tiny two-year-old? Um, no. I wouldn’t parade her around in fishnet stockings and stiletto heels and call it cute, so why would I put her beautiful baby body on display? I find it ridiculous and highly inappropriate.

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Baby bikinis may seem like nothing to get all bent out of shape about, but I think they represent the tip of a very large iceberg. Social media, popular culture and high-speed marketing are all culpable in the rampant over-sexualization of young girls. Gone are the days of neon socks and one-sided overalls. Instead, our kids live in a world where toddler beauty pageants are tearing up the ratings on prime-time television, Bratz dolls have replaced Barbie dolls, and Victoria’s Secret is making underwear for tweens with words like “sexy” and “hot” splashed across the backside. Add to that celebrity tots like Maxwell Drew (spawn of Jessica Simpson) and Harper Seven Beckham snapped sporting the latest trendy two-pieces, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see that a bikini is not an acceptable choice for a toddler. Just because stores sell pint-sized designer bikinis (thanks, Gwyneth Paltrow) doesn’t mean we should dress our little girls as our mini-mes.

Bikinis are inherently provocative. As an adult, I can make the choice to wear a bikini, knowing that it’s designed to say, “Look at me, and look at my body.” I understand that choice completely, but my daughter doesn’t. Her innocence is priceless, and her childhood will go by in a flash, so I will fiercely protect her, as her parent. She, too, is on the cusp of remembering the little things, like a favourite book, a lucky shirt, and yes, maybe even a fabulous swimsuit. As she grows into a young woman, I want her to remember that her mind is — and has always been — a greater asset than her body.

“Yes, you should let your daughter wear a bikini”
John Crossingham, dad of two

One of the longest standing jokes between my wife and me involves her gleefully ribbing me over a photo of my teenage bedroom. Every square inch of my walls was covered in posters of athletes, rock bands and — positioned around my bed, of course — bikini-clad swimsuit models. “Sandy bum cheeks!” my wife laughs, referencing the remnants of beach clinging to Elle Macpherson’s butt.

It seems that the bikini serves few purposes in this world other than to titillate. So what business do we have dressing our five-year-old daughter in one? Good question. Opponents will say that the bikini prematurely sexualizes an innocent girl, an argument I can certainly acknowledge.

But I don’t agree. What are those one-piece swimsuits so modestly covering up? She doesn’t have breasts. Does the one-piece not also sexualize? Shouldn’t my daughter be running around topless, in swim trunks, like the boys? (Oh wait…too late. She already took off her swimsuit and is running around naked.)

I suspect that the real anxiety over bikinis on our very young girls is pretty much the same anxiety over bikinis on our teenagers: It’s diffcult for some of us to accept the adult development of these little creatures we love so much. And, alongside lipstick and eye shadow, few things seem to foreshadow that transition more aggressively than the bikini. Suddenly, all you can picture are idiot boyfriends and unwanted ogling.

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I would never say a parent is wrong to feel anxious over these impending realities. Parents worry. We’re awesome at it. But in the end, the bikini is just a bathing suit. The influence it has on my daughter is far less than the influence of her personality — not to mention the confidence and self-awareness my wife and I can instill in her.

Which is why I really don’t get the fuss over a little girl in a bikini. Is it a bit odd? I can see how one might think so. But inappropriate? No. If I do my job right as a parent, a bikini looks the same on her as a one-piece, a pair of trunks or a wetsuit does. Her clothing does not define her.

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