“Mom, can I get this?”
I turned to see my 7-year-old daughter holding up a swim shirt and matching trunks, printed with sharks.
We were spending a long weekend at an indoor water park with cousins. My daughter had long hated the pink and purple swimsuits offered in the girls’ department. To her, they weren’t comfortable or attractive. And they most definitely were not her style.
Ever since she was young, my daughter has loved superheroes, sports, remote control cars, and rough play such as wrestling and Nerf-gun wars. Her favorite colors have evolved from green and blue to red and black. She loves boys’ basketball shoes, Spiderman shirts, and jeans. And all of her best friends are boys.
This wasn’t the first time she’d asked me for a pair of swim trunks. A few years ago, I was in a store with my two oldest girls, and my daughter presented me with a pair of swim trunks. Before I could reply, a store employee rushed up to us and told my daughter, “You don’t want those! Here, let me show you where the swimsuits for you are.”
The weekend we returned home from our indoor water park weekend, my 9-year-old approached me holding a pink, sparkly, ruffled one-piece suit while we were shopping.
“That’s the one you want?” I inquired.
“Yes,” she nodded confidently.
Her obsession used to be unicorns, but she’s now moved on to all-things-outer-space. Her bedroom is decorated in pink and gray. She’s taking ballet lessons and is looking forward to her spring recital where is taking on the role of Jane from Tarzan. Her beautiful cornrows are woven with strands of bright pink.
My oldest two daughters are so different. Wonderfully different. And I’m going to let them pick the swimwear, shoes, outfits, and hairstyles they want. And for good reason.
Growing up, I was tall and thin. You would think I would garner a lot of praise, having what magazines and media deemed the ideal body. However, I was teased relentlessly, often called “anorexic” and “Barbie doll.” I wasn’t popular, nor did I have any athletic or musical ability. I was even the subject of annoyance from my high school P.E. teacher who said I should be able to do better on the state-mandated reach and mile running tests because of my long limbs. (Newsflash: Having long limbs doesn’t mean a person is flexible or a fast runner!)
To top it off, everything was too short on me, including shorts and skirts. While other girls wore “daisy dukes” which were all the rage in the ’90s, I wore Bermuda shorts, which were most definitely not in style. I wasn’t allowed to buy heels because they just made me taller and my clothes shorter. Prom and homecoming dress shopping was a nightmare. I had no curves to hold up bigger sizes that gave me appropriate length, but dresses in my size were too short.
The messages I received all led me to one conclusion: I wasn’t enough.
And I will not allow this message to be the one my girls receive about their bodies.
I certainly cannot control everything they see, hear, and read. But I can control what clothing I buy them. So when we shop, the questions that are most important include: Is it comfortable? Do you like the color and design? Is it appropriate for the occasion? Does it fit well? Is it in our budget?
The questions we aren’t asking: Is it feminine? Is it in style? Is it flattering? Is it from the designated girls’ department?
Thankfully, today there are far more clothing options and variance of body types represented, but the responsibility still comes down to the one who has the money: the parent. What messages will we send our daughters about their bodies and preferences? Will we affirm them, or will we shame them? Will we honor them or try to change them?
I think the answer is simple: If we want to raise confident, happy daughters who view themselves in a positive light, we need to make sure that they know their voices matter. So if that means purchasing a shark swim truck and tee set or a pink, sparkly, ruffled one-piece, so be it.