Bratz to Burqas – where’s the happy medium?
Remember when Abercrombie & Fitch marketed a push-up bikini to eight year olds? Or more recently when K-Mart Australia allegedly sold thongs that say “I ♥ rich boys” under their girls’ brand? A lot of moms and dads are concerned about attire available for girls that sends the message, “I’m sexually available.”
For me, a simple bikini falls close enough to that category that I’m uncomfortable with my 8yo wearing one. I realize it’s in the gray area and I don’t blame parents who buy them for their kids, but to me, part of the purpose of a bikini is to look sexy. I understand why bathing suits need to be like this, rather than this, for actual performance reasons, but what does the bare midriff achieve other than “hey, look at this bare midriff?” I would be totally comfortable with my girls being completely naked at a nude beach, by the way, because in that case the exposure isn’t framed as a sexual display. [Edit: you know, I was thinking about this as I fell asleep last night, and realized that it's far easier to use the bathroom when you're wearing a bikini. And that's not a trivial consideration when you have little kids at the pool. I might be reassessing my stance this year when we shop.]
You may think my hesitation about bikinis is insane, and I would understand. But I think we can all recall seeing clothing manufactured for little girls that made us cringe. Maybe “Juicy” emblazoned on a 9yo’s butt bothers you. Maybe the tartification of toddlers in beauty pageants is your sticking point. Whatever it is, I’m curious how people draw their lines, and what the implications are for girls.
Because at some point, wanting not to display prepubescent girls as sex objects can verge into demanding “modesty” because girls bear the moral burden for the irrational and creepy reactions other people have toward them. “I don’t want my daughter to be seen as a sex object when she’s 5″ is rational, and this is clearly batshit crazy misogyny (and misandry!):
If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it..whose fault is it – the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab (veil), no problem would have occurred.
But aren’t they at the opposite ends of the same spectrum? And somewhere in between is the neighbor who chastises a 12 year old girl for wearing kind of short shorts with her t-shirt, the mom who puts back the Monster High Halloween costume her daughter picked, the Christian boys feeling lust when a girl wears a snug shirt, and the dad who won’t let his 11 year old wear makeup. Where’s the right place to come down?
And let’s not forget that we never seem to worry that little boys might be sexualized. Companies don’t make sexualizing or questionable products for boys, to my knowledge. And if a boy wears a very small bathing suit, people might be put off or think his family is weird (possibly European?), but we won’t be worried that they’re presenting him as an object of sexual interest, will we? I suspect that comes from the same place as our cultural tendency to evaluate a picture of a guy doing an activity based on what he’s doing, and a picture of a woman doing an activity at least in part on how (un)attractive she is.
I would like to make sure that “I find this item sexually provocative and don’t want my little kid wearing it” doesn’t become “Having a female body is provocative and you have to cover it up, because you bear all the responsibility for the lust you might unwittingly evoke.”
What do you think?