I have a confession: little girls in bikinis? Not okay. That’s right, I said it. I wrote it. Spoken like a true aunt (not a mother) and feminist to boot. Rest assured this piece is not headed into some “Toddlers and Tiaras”-like tirade—although I could draw many a connection. I am just not a fan, and I am fully willing to be challenged. I would like to get to the meaning and get people to think about it from a new angle.
The onset of the bikini in the 1940s caused a stir, sketched in American history stone. The French and Hollywood influence and endorsement sent an early tidal wave of innuendo through American culture, though at the time, the only rational for the bikini was to expose the body for tanning or to celebrate “freedom.” There apparently was nothing sexual about the bikini from the start.
Even with Annette Funicello as the poster child of bikinis and Disney-like beach blanket films, I don’t believe it was the fashion industry’s intention for the itty bitty bikini to penetrate the toddler and tween fashion market. As early as the 1950s, early adapters of the “yellow polka dotter” began to see backlash for showing too much or appearing too sexual.
I see young girls at the beach today with their families —some younger than 8 years old—baring their skin in the UV rays. I have friends showing off pictures of their babes in two pieces on Facebook. What is it that inspires a parent to put their child in something so stigmatized and so impractical?
Do their parents think it’s cute? Do the children? And if so, it then it begs the question: Where does that aesthetic come from? Who is she emulating?
Now, I am not conservative, nor do I mind a youthful expression of “cuteness.” But in my opinion, bikinis simply don’t make sense for a Kindergartener, not to mention the onslaught of messages about skin cancer, applying sunscreen, and caring for a child’s skin from a young age.
My sister is a new mother, and she and I were chatting recently about small girls in bikinis as her baby girl is now in swim class. And while she agreed with take on the subject, the more we talked, the more troubled I became, which made me wonder, what actually bothers me about bikinis? Is it my own bias? My own problem with its undeniably yet overtly denied sexual roots?
Well, that would make me a stiff, and I am not. I mean, I even read once that strong women in ancient Greece wore something like the bikini in athletic competitions.
Time to play Devil’s Advocate. Maybe little girls like to be like their moms.
Perhaps, though I know many moms who won’t wear bikinis themselves, and yet they put their daughters in them. Are children becoming like dolls, a canvas for their symbolic selves—their child a reflection of what they cannot be? Maybe.
Most attire children dress in serves a purpose: party clothes for party, soccer shorts for a soccer practice, pajamas for bed, jacket for warmth, hat to keep the sun out of your eyes… I’m still looking for the point of that bikini, though.
Jennifer Harris began writing in the 80s in an appropriately gendered, pink-studded journal and has e’er since employed the craft through print in academia, the nonprofit sector, and in health sciences. While formulaic writing takes up most of her day, she hasn’t lost sight of the journaling-voice that consumed her youth. Creative non-fiction, genre-benders, and pop-cultural musings are among her favorites to read and produce. When she is not typing, marinating, or mentoring, she takes the edge off by hiking, exercising, and watching Reality TV. Particularly dating shows. Yes. The latter is true.