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Bikinis on babies: cute or creepy? Hypersexualizing or completely normal? Babble.com’s Parental Advisory.

We brought our two-year-old daughter out to the beach this weekend for a family reunion on my husband’s side. I was so excited to put her in this new adorable bikini (polka dots and all). But the family implied that it was inappropriate. I was shocked, humiliated and also a little confused. What’s so wrong with a baby showing some skin? – Bikini Babe

Dear Bikini Babe,

Without knowing your husband’s family, it’s hard to know what exactly they found inappropriate. We know people who don’t go for bikinis on babies because they’re showing too much. These people might be big on modesty in general, and believe that girls’ bellies aren’t meant to be seen in public, at any age (or any age below the age of consent, anyway).

We know others who don’t like bikinis because of what they do cover. The idea here is that the bikini is in itself a sexualized object, and the symbolic covering of a baby’s “breasts” sexualizes her as well. Going topless or naked might be preferable according to this logic.

As post-modern third-wave feminists (turned into pathetically practical parents), we tend to think that either position is putting a lot of weight on one little girl’s body. Not that ideology isn’t important. If either of these positions were your own, we’d say it makes total sense to let your thoughts govern your child’s wardrobe. But this is different, because the ideas are coming from others.

You can talk to your husband’s family about what they find so offensive about her ensemble. Maybe an enlightened conversation could change their minds, or help you understand where they’re coming from. Then again, it could just aggravate you. How does your husband feel? If these are the people who raised him, their ideas must have made some impact. Of course, he may actually like pissing off his parents . . . we’ve heard of this happening.

Your daughter’s fashion is, for now, in your purview. You may want to take the opinions of others into account, though – especially in the coming years, as she is increasingly able to understand negative feedback. And we heartily encourage thoughtful consideration of body and sexuality issues by mothers of daughters. But the baby bikini is hardly a radical statement at this point. They’re everywhere, even in infant sizes. We’re betting you’ll have the opportunity to trot out those itsy bitsy polka dots for an audience less concerned with your two-year-old’s “sexuality” . . . and more concerned with where you bought the cute suit.

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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