Swimsuits and Six-Year-Olds

I like to think that I’m a fairly laid-back parent. When my daughter wants to run around wearing nothing but her underwear, I don’t freak out. When my kids do things that are a little dangerous, I stand back and let them learn their own lesson (although I do issue the occasional dire warning to placate my conscience). And I try to avoid making pronouncements about “Kids These Days” and how much harder I had it back in my day. Because, really, I grew up in the late 70s and 80s, things weren’t really that hard. Unless you consider having to wait in a bank line-up to withdraw money hard. Which, come to think of it, I do. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it! Back in my day …


Anyways, back to the point at hand. While I’m fairly laissez-faire in my parenting, when I took my kids shopping for new bathing suits all of my laid-back ways ran smack into the row of skimpy swimwear designed for six-year-old girls. There were many, many bikinis, and my daughter Hannah wanted one really quite a lot. She also liked the one piece suits with cut-outs on the sides. It became very clear to me almost immediately that Hannah and I were operating at cross-purposes. I wanted her to cover as much of herself as possible, and she wanted to cover as little of herself as possible.

June 1969
An example of a swimsuit with cut-outs on the sides (image courtesy of dovima_is_devine_II on Flickr)

I remember being Hannah’s age, and wanting to wear the same clothes that I saw teenagers wearing. If someone had gotten me six-year-old sized high heels and an itty bitty bikini I would have been all over it. This is what our culture says is attractive, after all, and I wanted to be attractive. Not sexually attractive, but pretty. And I can see that my daughter feels the same way. She just wants to wear the same stuff that adults get to wear, and which she views as aesthetically pleasing.

When we’re talking swimsuits it’s really easy for me to just pull the sun safety card and say that I want as much of my kid’s skin covered as possible so that she doesn’t burn and put herself at increased risk for skin cancer down the road. But the truth is that part of me would want my kid covered whether or not a sunburn was dangerous. As my daughter gets older, I become more concerned about the clothing she wears. I’ve seen baby-sized bikinis, and when an actual baby is wearing them, complete with baby rolls and a diaper, it’s just cute. But at some point, a bathing suit stops being just cute and starts being alluring.

Beach Ready Baby
It was much easier when she was this age (image courtesy of emerille on Flickr)

At six years old I wouldn’t say that my daughter’s clothing choices are intended to be alluring or attractive. But as soon as five or six years from now that could be a different story. And as my daughter sits roughly at the halfway mark between infancy and puberty, we’ve reached the point where public nudity is probably not really cute anymore. Especially because, more and more, I’m entrusting her to the care of others and allowing her greater freedom when we venture out in public. Some part of me feels like she’ll be safer if she’s thoroughly covered up.

I have mixed feelings about this reaction, though. On the one hand, I don’t want to blow my six-year-old’s fashion choices out of proportion. And for another, I don’t want to place the onus for avoiding attention of whatever kind on her. The truth is that she can wear whatever makes her comfortable. How other people react is their choice – including me. But on the other hand, I don’t appreciate that the bathing suit manufacturers of the world appear to be conspiring to sexualize my child, and I don’t want my daughter to think that she needs to wear a skimpy swimsuit to be beautiful.

Grandma and me - Aug 1983 - Dohez Beach
In my day photos were sort of yellowish and the swimsuits didn’t have cut-outs (image courtesy of sflovestory on Flickr)

In the end, I asked Hannah to choose a one-piece bathing suit without cut-outs. I may have played the sun safety card. She found one that she likes, and she picked out a matching hat. She wore it around the house all afternoon, pausing every so often to pose for me, so it’s clearly a hit. I’m glad that it’s a little girl suit for the little girl that she still is. I’m also glad that it’s big enough to fit her for a couple of years, so that I don’t have to face swimsuit shopping with my daughter again until at least 2013 or so. I could use a good long break before I have to face that again.

What about you? Have you ever run into the skimpy swimsuit issue with your own daughter? Do you think that bikinis on six-year-olds are fun or inappropriate? And have you noticed (as I did) that choosing a boy’s suit is ever so much easier? I’d love to hear!

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  1. I had a very hardtime with this this year (for my 6year old also.) I normally buy her suits at Gap because they are SPF 50,c ute, and durable enough to last more than one season. She did have a little bikini when she was about 18 months old. It had a shirted bottom, a larger halter style top (not a traingle top) and it was sooo cute!

    Imagine my surprise when I saw itty bitty bikinis and the “paris hilton style” cutout suits this year!!

    I ended up going to target and getting her 3 cute suits there. Hopefully alternating the 3 will make them last all year like a gap suit!
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  2. So far, I’m a big fan of the tankini – mostly covered, but easy access to the swim diaper or potty. At this point, I don’t have anything against bikinis on little girls, and I mostly wear them myself, so I don’t think it would feel right to restrict my daughter from wearing them. However, in time, it’s possible that both of those things could change. (Or PROBABLE, in the case of my comfort level with wearing a bikini myself!) We’ll just have to see. This is a good question, though. I’ll have to ask the Hubs for his take on it.
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  3. We haven’t run into this yet. Eve is happy in one piece swimsuits or tankinis – she hasn’t even mentioned bikinis. Our neighbour, whose pool she swims in all the time, wears a bikini though, and she’s skinny and it doesn’t look remotely sexy or like it’s trying to be. I have seen clothes that I would never put on a little girl, though. Eve is still at the stage where her idea of pretty is to where everything the same colour (but not necessarily the same shade – sometimes this has very amusing results). I guess we’ll just take it on a case-by-case basis.
    allison’s last post … Will no one ease their pain?My Profile

  4. Just wait until she is older. My almost 13 year old now only will wear bikinis. I don’t mind this she looks good in a bikini. I just find most of them too teeny. She is five foot five inches tall and I don’t like people looking at her when she is wearing a bikini. I don’t like the thought of men not knowing she is only going to be 13.

    I am positve that bikinis have shrunk since I last wore one.

  5. I think that children’s sexuality is fine and they should feel free to express it by running around buck naked and playing with their bodies, etc. But bikinis? That’s adult sexuality foisted on children.
    Emily R’s last post … Spirit weekMy Profile

    • I think you just hit the nail on the head, here. It’s not that I don’t think my daughter should be allowed to express herself, it’s that I’m concerned about all of the cultural messaging that’s foisted on her, and how that plays out in her clothing choices.

    • Marianne says:

      Well said Emily!

  6. I’m totally on board with you on this one, Amber. Don’t understand why it’s so difficult to find just a nice, attractive, cute swimsuit which DOESN’T make the 6 year old appear to be trying to be 16.

  7. I hate bikinis on kids and dread the day my daughter will want to wear one. I like the tankinis right now due to ease of access for potty training, but I don’t see the need to show so much skin with a bikini. Maybe I’ve turned into an old fogy after having kids but I cover up more now (both for my sake and to be an example to her) and I don’t want my young daughter in an itty bitty bikini. I don’t want her ogled. I don’t want her to think that wearing less makes her more (more pretty, more attractive, more popular, etc.).

  8. I am all for freedom of expression and have no problem with nudity, but that is a lot different than being ok with scantily clad. I do not like seeing little girls in swimsuits that mimic adult sexy styles. I know they don’t have curves, etc, but I still feel like children in adult style clothes is just inappropriate. I don’t even like seeing little girls in mini skirts and heels with lots of “play make up.” Personal thing. I live on an island and see it a lot. It makes me very uncomfortable seeing children dress in clothing that on a teen or adult would be deemed provocative.
    mimi’s last post … Area 51 Revealed… finallyMy Profile

  9. Marianne says:

    I’m not a fan of bikinis for kids. So far I’ve stuck with one-piece suits (no cut-outs) for my now 3 and a half year old daughter. I’m currently in search of a new suit for her though as I think she may outgrow the surrent one before fall, and I’m considering a tankini because I think she’ll get longer wear out of it, as she usually outgrows her suits by getting too long in the torso.

    Apart from age appropriateness and sun safety, I also think about how well the suit will stay on when she’s playing. I dont’ want something that will have to be re-tied or repeatedly tugged into place or that will fall off when she dives of a diving board (well … when she’s old enough to dive off a diving board!). Growing up I did swimming lessons and worked at summer camp, and I had 2 tiers of bathing suits — those that were good for lounging in the sun or swimming leisurely and those that were actually useful for activities such as boating, swimming, diving, roughhousing in the water, etc.

  10. I’m another fan of tankinis. They work really well for my 9 year old, and I think they cope better with her growth.
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  11. Caitlin wears one pieces or a two piece that looks like shorts and a t-shirt. I don’t think she knows that bikinis are an option… mom usually buys suits for the kids, so they wear what they get!

  12. Marcy G. says:

    Oh, boy. Your battle has just begun, Amber. My daughter and DIL have struggled mightily to get their beautiful girls (now 14) through the fashion jungle without wearing what they deem inappropriate clothing. One example was finding sweatpants without something written across the backside. Not an issue? Think about it.The challenges continue as our girls are tall and sometimes look older than they are. However, we find that they are developing their own unique styles and these are wonderful, as one is sporty and the other a bit boho.Thank goodness for the layering look which followed the bare your midriff look.

    If you check out the current popular music videos and see what the females are wearing (or not) then you realize what a struggle it is to raise young girls/ women to be proud of their bodies without having to be “hot”. This cultural sexualization of our young females makes me very sad. After all, childhood is so fleeting. They have the rest of their lives to dress as they wish.

    Oh, and wait until Hannah is invited to a 6 yo spa birthday party!

  13. We do tankinis and boy -style bottoms. I’m not as concerned about their belly buttons showing as I am about their bums hanging out the bottom of a swim suit with the legs cut too high. Since legs that hit mid thigh are not available in a one piece (and probably haven’t been since the 20’s) we have to go the two piece route, but I keep it very conservative. In the baby pool at our house they can wear old suits, but I buy my girls identical suits to wear to the pool. It is easier for me to locate both of them instantly if they are wearing the same thing. They’re really never more than 1 1/2 feet away from me, but as a mom of two little girls I weave elaborate tapestries with worry and worst-case scenarios. In fact, we could probably use those as our towels AND picnic blanket.

    I don’t take the girls shopping. My 3 year old would be bored. My 5 year old would probably enjoy shopping, but, and I know this is odd, I really try to downplay the fact that we buy things other than food. At this point in their lives I just want them to know that we have what we need at home. I know I’m probably fighting the inevitable, but I want to put off my girls seeing shopping as a hobby for as long as possible. There are so many more worthwhile things for them to do with their time.
    Audra’s last post … Painted LadiesMy Profile

  14. I fall in that weird category that I honestly dont pay much attention to other peoples kids wearing such things but would not allow my kids to wear them. Even as a teen myself I never wore a bikini. It felt too much like wearing my underwear at the beach so maybe that just crossed over onto my kids??? I am curious as my girls get older how it will ultimately play out. In short, I totally agree with you not letting her get the the cut out bathing suit.
    One Rich Mother’s last post … The Laundry MountainMy Profile

  15. When I tried to find a one piece swimsuit for my 2yo daughter for swim lessons I had to go to multiple stores to find one!!!!!! Crazy!
    themombshell’s last post … is this curriculum-based enough for youMy Profile

  16. I vacationed in Mexico once and next to my resort was an “Italian” resort. All day long those vacationers would stroll up and down our shared beach in various states of undress, including their little ones. The women walked around topless, the men were in speedos, and the little boys and girls were all dressed similarly. It just wasn’t a big deal to them.

    I pretty much agree with that philosophy, so a bikini (or whatever) isn’t anything to raise my ire. I’d have a much bigger problem with makeup on a 6 yo.
    Jessica – This is Worthwhile’s last post … This shouldn’t be easierMy Profile

  17. So glad I have boys in this example. Course I have no problem at all about letting my little guys run around naked half the time. So. hmmmmm
    Amber’s last post … why my husband deserves Father’s Day…illustrated with Crappy PicturesMy Profile

  18. Happy to be choosing between shark patterns and guitar patterns for my boys. Whew.
    Lady M’s last post … PerspectiveMy Profile

  19. Well my daughter is only 2 so she chose the pinkest suit which also happened to have a skirt attached. I didn’t complain over that one. Had she tried to chose a bikini (of which there were many available), I would have said no. I am not a fan of bikini’s on young kids…or really hot looking women that make me feel frumpy beside them. If we all just wore one pieces…or boy’s swim trunks and shirts…that would be fine with me.

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