I’ll never forget how my daughter’s sweet baby rolls looked in an two-piece at 6-months-old as we headed down to the local pool. I posted a picture of her on Facebook and within minutes, was shamed publicly and by private message for what she was wearing:
“That bathing suit is really inappropriate for a baby.”
“You should cover her up.”
“Do you want her to grow up to be a sl*t?” (Yep, someone actually said this in a public comment on my feed.)
These remarks made me livid, not only because my supposed friends were criticizing me as a parent. Much more importantly, they were sexualizing my child. Teaching our girls to “cover up” only supports the resurgence of misogyny that society is currently experiencing. I won’t be a part of that, now or ever.
Last summer, she was a chubby 1-year-old. In our Suburban New Jersey town, the stiff heat and thick humidity started in early June and didn’t back down until late September. I was always careful about using sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats. But I also dressed her in shorts and tank tops, sometimes even crop tops. And I got shunned for it constantly, by both strangers and friends.
Even though a lot of the clothes we buy are from mainstream retailers, you’d think I was putting my daughter in unheard-of items. While I prefer fitted clothes (dragging hems and gaping arm holes have always been a pet peeve of mine), I would never dress her in anything uncomfortable or tight. And if you met my daughter you’d know, she would never stand for that anyway.
Also, little kids like to be naked. Mine never is, in public, but she acts freer when she’s in a little romper or shorts and flowing tank in the unrelenting heat of summer. She also loves her little belly and likes to have access to it for button-poking purposes. Hilarious, adorable, and classic toddler behavior. You best believe she’ll be in a bikini again this year now that she’s 2, as that’s how she’s happiest at the pool. Not to mention, it makes our lives about a zillion times easier with diaper changes.
To delve a bit deeper here, sexualizing children is just wrong. I am not a moron; I know there are sexual predators in this world and quite possibly right here in my town. But these creeps who prey on babies do so no matter what they are dressed in. It is not okay to blame the victim of a sexual crime because of what she is wearing. Nor is it okay to suggest that a mother putting her toddler in an outfit that has “skin” showing makes her more vulnerable.
This type of thinking only perpetuates the “rape culture” of our society, something that I as a feminist and a mom am passionate about abolishing. Moreover, it sets little kids up for a lifetime of shame about their bodies (“I must cover up because if I don’t I will be victimized?”) Hell no, am I ever going to teach my girls that.
The criticism keeps rolling on in, even after I’ve made my views clear about not sexualizing young children. Usually the next line is, “Well, what about when she’s in high school?” Sure, what about when she’s in high school? In high school she’ll wear what she wants to wear, just like I did.
I was a straight-A student, never tried drugs, and explored deep and meaningful relationships with my peers. I was honest with my parents and always home by curfew. And guess what? I wore makeup every day. I loved wearing short skirts because they made me feel empowered and stylish. I’ve always been obsessed with fashion, and in high school I babysat to earn money for clothes I loved. Clothes that made me feel comfortable, like my outside matched my inside.
My parents had no issue with how I dressed, and I appreciate now that I have my own daughter their approach: You have a right to dress your body in the ways that make you feel good. Dressing for society’s acceptability standards is a waste of time and effort. It is also not okay to judge others for what they wear.
By the same token, I have a friend whose preteen daughter calls herself a “never-naked” and prefers to wear long pants and shirts year-round. I applaud the parents for supporting her in making the choice that modesty makes her feel empowered.
So, no, we won’t be ditching the shorts and tank tops or the two-pieces, and I don’t care what you think. As she continues to grow into her own person with likes and dislikes of the sartorial and other senses, I am here to listen and follow her lead. Until then, I won’t be “covering up” my daughter to please anyone, so keep your narrow-minded, anti-feminist opinions to yourself and move along. Especially come June — it’ll just be too darn hot out to argue.