I know plenty of women who hyperventilate at the mere thought of a bikini. I’ve always worn one and never thought much about it. However, on a recent trip to a family resort, I thought I was going to have a panic attack at the very sight of an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikini.
Okay, so it wasn’t yellow but the rest is accurate.
My anxiety had nothing to do with my own body image, but that I saw this particular bikini on the body of a little girl not much older than my second grader. And then I saw another, and another. In fact, there were miniscule pieces of fabric covering pre-teen bodies everywhere I looked. The experience made me look at my own little girl with more fear than I’ve felt before in my life; I seriously thought I might assume the fetal position and start clawing my skin while murmuring over and over again “I’m not ready!”
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that this is a controversial subject and I make no claims or judgments about the decisions of others or the intentions of any little girl wearing a bikini. I actually witnessed a fairly nasty Facebook debate on the topic which ended with name calling and husbands defending the integrity and parenting skills of their wives. As a passive observer, I could sympathize with both sides but the reality is that it won’t be too long before I’m going to have to manage expectations about what is appropriate for swimwear, in addition to a host of other choices.
My daughter, Bailey, is a seven year-old LITTLE girl, yet there are so many images and messages encouraging her to grow up way too quickly. From the kiddie lingerie (gross) and high-heeled shoes you now see in your local stores to the fashion-focused, halter top-wearing Bratz dolls, it’s very hard to keep them doing and wearing age-appropriate things. In my opinion, how we dress is a reflection of both how we feel about ourselves and what we want others to think about us. And, I hate to think about some of the thoughts that may have been directed toward those girls I saw on vacation.
I am not perfect and I struggle with the right balance to stay “with it” instead of dressing my daughter like she just walked off the set of Little House on the Prairie. I like fashion-forward clothes, but I’ve realized there is a fine line between what’s trendy and cute and what’s simply too adult for a child. Further, others may not agree, but I do think there’s a difference between a two-piece swimsuit and a bikini. I let Bailey wear a two-piece suit but I do have very specific criteria about what is acceptable and vow to be an active participant in the swimsuit shopping process into the future. In the dressing room, I will always get 2 votes to her one.
I know there is a bigger issue here than whether or not a bikini is okay. I’m concerned with both protecting my daughter from the perils of both the world and teaching her to stand above the crowd so that she makes positive choices. This is a daunting task, but I’ve included a few simple ways in which I’m trying NOW to do things to have an impact on her LATER:
- I monitor what TV she watches and try to watch her favorite shows with her. I’ll admit I prefer to watch The Wizards of Waverly Place to Care Bears. There’s only so much ridiculous stuffed animal adventure I can take. However, I feel that I can ask Bailey questions about what’s happening to gauge what she understands and thinks about issues and scenarios presented on the screen. If a character lies, we can talk about why that’s wrong and discuss the consequences. I like to think I’m teaching her to think like a critic. We were even watching the hideous, but addicting, Toddlers and Tiaras and Bailey told me she thinks it’s silly that girls her age wear all that makeup and get fake nails just to win a crown. She said she already has a crown and she doesn’t have to do any of that! (The crown is plastic and from Target.)
- I do not let her play on the computer unsupervised and there are only a few sites she’s allowed to visit (pbskids.org or starfall.com). I anticipate this will change somewhat as she gets older, but I think we will always have the computer in a central location so that there are no secrets and, of course, I will set controls and monitor the history.
- I make sure she’s involved in activities to help her explore talents and interests. I believe that being good at something or simply being a part of a team gives girls confidence. I also feel that any kind of physical activity helps them understand what their bodies are capable of, instead of focusing simply on how pretty they look.
- I make sure she spends time with lots of different friends. Peers who have similar interests are great, but there’s something to be said about having a wider view of the world so that she doesn’t feel pressured to follow just one path. Further, I am committed to knowing the parents of all friends. I’ve seen friend pressure play out in very positive and not-so-positive ways even at Bailey’s young age and I will do what I can to ensure good influences are present at all times.
- I talk to her about ALL the ways she is special. I think it’s a natural tendency to tell little girls they’re beautiful. However, I want my daughter to know that I think she’s smart and talented and funny and fun to be around and helpful to others…..you get the picture. Even more important is that I want her to understand that she’s special because God made her, loves her and will never abandon her.
- I let daddy take the lead. Bailey is lucky to have a wonderful dad who is actively involved in her day-to-day life. I think it’s important that she hears from him about anything and everything and I firmly believe that fatherly love and acceptance is one way to keep her from longing for that affection outside the home. Further, she values his opinion and she likes to take him shopping!
I have no illusion that these or other activities will absolutely safeguard our future from any number of teenage pitfalls. But, the important thing is that we’re thinking about the issue as a family instead of sliding through life hoping for the best. I think that a long, sunny childhood is an amazing preparation for adulthood, and it is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give to our girls. We cannot slow down the clock, but we can make the most of the minutes that God blesses us with.