Boys, Girls, Bathing Suits and Inequality

As I was getting the kids ready for an afternoon of carefree fun at the pool today, my almost 6-year-old surprised me with this question, “Mom, why do girls have to wear bathing suit tops or shirts, but boys don’t?”

I wanted to shout, “Patriarchy!” as I like to blame most things on the patriarchy and I know it would have made Denise proud, but somehow I was pretty sure that response wouldn’t suffice.

It occurs to me now that this may be the first time she’s really had to deal with inequality in the world (or the Puritanical society in which we live). Yes, I know it’s only a shirt (or a bathing suit top), but this may be the first time she’s realized that different rules exist for different people. That’s a pretty big deal.

Back to my story. I can’t recall exactly how I replied (I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t study! I didn’t know there was going to be a test!), but it was something to the effect of blaming “the man” for making “rules” like that. She didn’t think it was fair. I can’t blame her. It’s not.

Later that evening I mentioned her question to Twitter and asked how they would respond. I received an interesting mix of replies.

I think my favorite came from Denise (Eat Play Love) who said, “Tell her breasts make people really really nervous! ;)” I have to agree. That pretty much sums it all up right there!

Emily (Mama Days said, “best answer: men have it easier in basically everything in life ;)” While I tend to agree with this statement, it wasn’t the message I’m quite ready to give to Ava.

CassieΒ (Cassie Boorn) said, “I totally had a fit about that when I was young. It was my first sign of feminism ;)” I get the feeling many little girls find the notion off-putting.

While Amy (Entertainment Realm) said, “I went shirtless when I didn’t have any boobs i.e. at that age. no biggie.” Interesting. I can recall my little sister toddling around without a shirt when she was 2 or 3, but probably not as old as 6.

InnerWizdom said that personally she wouldn’t enforce that “rule” because she finds it “bogus.” She added that her kids do go topless at the public pool or beach, but not in stores because nobody is supposed to go shirtless there. She also said that she doesn’t know how anyone can explain to a 6-year-old “that adults see their chest as sexual, as something to hide away, even though it looks the same as a boys.” Yeah, I really didn’t want to get into sexuality with her at that point. Also I admire her for not “forcing” her kids to do something just because that’s what society says they should do. I don’t know that I could do that.

So what do you think? What would your response be if your 6-year-old daughter asked you the same question? Would you blame anatomy? Blame the patriarchy? Blame the Puritans? Blame the American prudery (as my friend‘s husband suggested)? Or is the answer: “that’s just how it is?”

Photo credit – Flickr: bunnygoth

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123 thoughts on “Boys, Girls, Bathing Suits and Inequality”

  1. “You have to wear a top, because you are descended from crazy Puritanical Americans. If you were French sweetie, you could run around topless at the pool any day! Or at least until you actually get breasts. And, then you could only do it when sun bathing, which you can’t do in CO anyhow, so don’t worry about that…”

  2. Personally, I think it’s silly that we make small children wear bathing suits at all, unless the water is cold. It would be much easier and cheaper. Alas…

    My three-year-old son has already noticed differences between boys and girls, and he frequently comments about it, often referring to his baby sister in the process. How do you explain to boys that they don’t get to wear skirts and dresses? Is it detrimental to tell them “that’s just the way it is; boys dress one way, and girls another”?

  3. You could save the more difficult answer until she’s older, and for now just tell her that the clothing manufacturers just happen to make girls’ clothes cuter. It’s hard to make a pair of shorts super cute. She’s lucky to have so many more bathing suit options!

  4. We had our first (spoken) realization of gender inequality last week too. Kieran saw a little girl wearing a skirt and liked it. He said “she wear a skirt?” Yes. “Kieran wear a skirt?” pause – Yes, I suppose you could wear a skirt if you wanted to. “Kieran have no skirt?” No, you don’t have any skirts. “Why?” I had no idea how to respond, so I just said “Well, we haven’t thought about buying you a skirt.”
    But I was not satisfied with my initial reaction and with the reality.

  5. This has come up from Annie. I sort of took the opposite approach and told her that girls get to wear tops whereas people think it’s silly when boys do on the beach. I told her in Europe nobody wears tops and that someday we would go there and experience that.

    But Annie didn’t see it as a negative off the bat, she was more curious.

  6. Hi Amy!
    Have 2 boys and then a girl, she has been on top of being EQUAL from day 1. All my kids wear swim tops with SPV so that’s not an issue, but at night when the boys go to sleep in undies, I let her too. We talk a LOT about the difference between girls and boys and she is pretty cool with the notion that someday she will have breasts to feed her baby while her brothers won’t. But we try to be as equal as possible. She is a total tomboy. Her brother Sam, on the other hand, has a full dress up trunk of dresses. He is over it now (he’s almost 7) but he spent YEARS dressing up in girls clothes. I never cared – although I wish Mae was a teeny bit more interested in girly things. πŸ˜‰

  7. I do not understand the stance which has been taken, people cannot concentrate on anything but nudity as sexual. The human body is beautiful, and should be looked upon as just that. Unfortunately, this is not the majority of societies opinion but most will deny it. If kids are taught to be free spirits, or if they are taught to follow the structure of society. I hope that they will be able to later in life create an opinion of their own. It seems that opinions are what we base our lives on. (Too often we care more about others opinions and set aside our own.)

  8. If I had to answer that for my daughter right now, I think I’d say: “Girls get to practice covering their breasts because one day they’ll be big enough to feed a baby. And in America, we cover them to keep them private from strangers.” Not sure how much I love that answer, though.

  9. My daughter usually likes the tops of her bathing suit because they are pretty – the same reason she likes wearing dresses.

    But I don’t force her to wear one and don’t think I would either. I think by the time it would be an issue, peer pressure will already have taken over.

  10. Such an interesting post, Amy!

    All my kids (2 boys, 1 girl) wear rash-guard tops and bottoms to swim for sun protection. My 8yo boy feels uncomfortable without a top! I can see how this is going to be an issue in the future though and I’m not sure how I will answer except to say that sometimes boys and girls wear different things.

    To be honest, I think we’re awfully lucky as women and girls to have so many options. My little girl wears dresses sometimes and her brothers’ hand-me-downs (shorts and tshirts) other days and no one blinks. If the boys wore dresses, there would be more “backlash” – it seems too bad that the men/boys are the ones who have to be limited! We should all be able to wear what is comfortable and appropriate for ourselves, I think! If my boys want to wear skirts, I’ll have to hesitate, not because I think it’s bad but because I think theyl get teased.

    Inequality swings perhaps….

  11. I disagree that it’s a purely sexual and prudish matter. While I agree that the human body is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of, it is also something to be respected and revered. I fully believe in modesty and teaching my children to appropriately cover their bodies.

    As far as gender-specific clothing, I think it is great that there are differences in styles for boys and girls. We were created to be different and that difference is important in every aspect of our lives. Yes, girls can do and be what ever they want but I firmly believe in complying with long-held societal norms.

  12. Tops are totally optional for my 5yo daughter. I wont enforce it until she hits puberty and might get arrested or something. She likes matching bikinis so often chooses to wear a top on her own but

    I would never MAKE her (and my parents know better than to try to maker her with me around) LOL!

    She did hit an age a year or so ago when I only let her go bottomless in our backyard or a private location just because of weirdos and pedophiles. I wish we lived on a deserted island and she could be a naked beach kid as long as she wanted. But that isn’t an arbitrary gender specific society rule (obviously). If I had a boy, he would wear bottoms at this age too.

  13. “While I agree that the human body is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of, it is also something to be respected and revered. I fully believe in modesty and teaching my children to appropriately cover their bodies.”

    So will/would your boys be expected to cover their bodies as well? Or you just have a double standard when it comes to modesty?

  14. Good post. I have a girl (though she’s only 21 months so we haven’t had to cross this bridge yet) and I’m not sure how I’ll respond when we do. I DO, however, know there will be nothing along the lines of “boys and girls are different” or “girls have to because they will feed a baby someday” — what does that teach them?

  15. I don’t think it has anything to do with the patriarchy and more to do with American custom. In my city there is a law that say women can walk around topless and not be arrested for indecent exposure. Very few do with the exception of a yearly musical festival. I don’t because I sunburn easily. I’ve traveled to several countries where both men and women were topless at the beach – no biggie because it’s their custom.

    Oh and Dionna @ Code Name: Mama boys can wear skirts. Generally they are called kilts though. My husband wears one and he looks wicked sexy in it! Little boy in kilts generally look cute πŸ™‚

  16. I don’t think it has anything to do with the patriarchy and more to do with American custom. In my city there is a law that say women can walk around topless and not be arrested for indecent exposure. Very few do with the exception of a yearly musical festival. I don’t because I sunburn easily. I’ve traveled to several countries where both men and women were topless at the beach – no biggie because it’s their custom.

    Dionna @ Code Name: Mama boys can wear skirts. Generally they are called kilts though. My husband wears one and he looks wicked sexy in it! Sometimes he wear a his Real Men Wear Kilts T-shirt with it. Little boy in kilts generally look cute πŸ™‚ With my crowd kilts are usually a big deal. Other times, my husband gets stares and questions (basically rude ones about what he wears under it.)

  17. I told my 5-year old that girls cover up their chests to practice for when there are breasts there. She asked why and I told her breasts are the private property of their owner …THIS is because I want her to understand that nobody gets to touch those private areas without her express permission.

    She watched me nurse her little sister so she understands that sometimes Breast Owners lend out these lovely parts to feed small children but at the end of the day they are not for public use.

  18. Ironically, I was just talking about this with my mother yesterday. I think as Americans, we have a completely different experience with this. My parents are from Europe and although things have changed a little bit from when they lived there (60s), bathing suit tops on young girls are optional in many places. Even I remember when I visited several times growing up that many girls ran around with just bottoms. My mom said most girls don’t start wearing tops until they start to develop but even then some women will go without, especially while sun bathing and it doesn’t offend. We were talking about it because I was surprised (and quietly proud of the mother) when I actually saw a young girl at the beach this week without a top.

  19. I’m not a mom, but if/when that situation arises, I’d blame it on the patriarchy!

    I sympathize with your daughter, because as a 19 year old woman I still think the inequality between genders in terms of what “has” to be covered is grossly unfair! My sister (16) and I consider ourselves “liberated feminists” (her words :-P), and were actually discussing just this subject the other day! As the days get hotter, we look enviously on the men who happily go around shirtless. It truly isn’t fair!

  20. “So will/would your boys be expected to cover their bodies as well? Or you just have a double standard when it comes to modesty?”

    Yes, the boys have to be modest, too. I believe in total equality in my home. Everyone is held to the same standard in all things.

  21. Many of the girl swimsuits I have seen, even with tops, are a lot briefer than the trunks that boys wear. Can you imagine the reaction if a boy toddler wore a speedo-type bathing suit?

  22. Great discussion!

    FWIW, I’m not a big fan of 2-piece bathing suits for my daughter, so Ava wears a 1-piece.

    ? for those of you who say “my boys wear swim shirts too” – I still wonder how you would explain why some boys/men go shirtless and girls/women do not/cannot.

  23. well, I’ll say right off the bat that I’m LDS and so much of my modesty issues come from religious views. I was having a discussion with my son last week about men being topless. He saw his grandpa without a shirt on washing his car, and then told me that it was immodest (he’s 3 BTW). I told him, no, washing your car by yourself at home in your driveway out in the country without a shirt on is not immodest. He just didn’t have a shirt on because he was hot, wet, and probably wanted a tan! But then as we went farther down the road into town we saw a young man, clearly tan, clearly toned without a shirt on pumping gas. I told him: look that boy is being immodest because he clearly wants people to look at his body and feel something. (not going to try to explain lust yet) I think he got it that when you are naked in private and not trying to show off your body in a “LOOK AT ME” kind of way that it’s okay to be naked. I think it’s fine for little girls to go without tops. my little girl actually goes without a diaper for much of the day, not usually in public, but we’re a very naked-at home-friendly family. We want to instill respect for the body in our kids without making them feel shame or that something is wrong with them. Clearly if someone looks at a pre-pubescent girl with out a swim-top on and feels some sort of sexual feeling something is wrong with them!

  24. Tough question. I imagine if I have kids I’d have them wear SPF shirts/rashguards, regardless of gender–but you’re right, that doesn’t answer the why question.

  25. I’m not entirely sure what I would actually say. When these questions come up, I’m not good at answering them. I just don’t think well on the spot.

    What I would LIKE to say, though, would be that adult women usually cover their breasts (in our culture, though I don’t think I’d get that detailed with a 6-year-old), and so they make bathing suits for girls that look the same. It’s not terribly charged. I, personally, have never felt bad about covering my chest. Maybe I just don’t have that much baggage on this, so I don’t particularly see it as a big deal one way or the other.

  26. I don’t have girls, but I do have an opinion πŸ˜‰

    If my six year old asked me I’d say, “You don’t! Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable.” If she then asks why do girls wear tops I’d say because when you get older you grow breasts and in most places in our culture women keep their breasts covered except when bathing, in private or when nursing their babies.

    I’d make it pretty matter of fact–no big deal.

    By the way my boys always wear a swim shirt. They love them and it keeps me from slathering nasty sunscreen on them. Also, we live in a state where it’s legal for a woman to go topless. Once in a while we see someone sunbathing topless at a state park.

  27. I agree with the whole…’our body is a precious gift to be respected’ concept. It’s not a command: “You MUST over up”…it’s more of a: “You are worth keeping sacred”.

    That being said I am a HUGE supporter of nursing in public without stressing about cover-ups but rather just dressing appropriately.

    It’s not been a big issue for my little family (we have two boys ages 2 and 5) but I grew up with four younger brothers. We always kept things equal…neither gender went topless. Although my brother was once walking around shirtless (we were both high school aged) and I asked him to go finish getting dressed. He replied “Hey! I’m a guy and I don’t have to wear a shirt if I don’t want to”…to which I replied “Oh cool! Well we’re an equal opportunity family so I guess that means I can walk around with MY shirt off too then!” (knowing he would be HORRIFIED at the thought of seeing his big sister shirtless) I think he said something to the effect of “You wouldn’t dare” and then when I started to take it off…he freaked out and bolted upstairs to put a shirt on…none of my brothers ever tried ‘topless’ again πŸ˜›

    Now as far as swimming, I wear a modest one-piece bathing suit with cute board shorts and my husband and boys all wear rash guard shirts and swim trunks.

    Our answers to the boys’ questions use the word ‘appropriate’ (which leaves some flexibility and lacks the weight of judgment because it’s so subjective). We’ve discussed that just like every family is unique and has different rules…different situations call for clothing and/or behavior that is ‘appropriate’ for that situation.

    We don’t wear our swimming gear to a restaurant because that’s not appropriate…we don’t wear pajamas to church because that’s not appropriate either.

    I like using ‘appropriate’ because I don’t want my boys judging people (whether it’s regarding modesty or anything else) and then declaring in black or white that they are right or wrong…they can say “I don’t think that’s appropriate” and we discuss why (or why not) it would (or would not) be appropriate in the framework of OUR family’s guidelines but I’m constantly reminding my boys that every family is different, every culture is different and it’s not right for us to say what they wear, or what they eat…or whatever…is bad or wrong….or gross. We can discuss why it is a decision we agree with or disagree with and why we as a family believe that way but we must ALWAYS respect each family’s right to choose.

  28. My daughter has been dealing with this a few years now. She is very much aware of the fact that it’s unfair that girls have to keep covered. I wouldn’t enforce it at her age so much, but my husband disagrees, so she doesn’t get to go topless at home. Funny part is that it doesn’t bug him that our daughter still sometimes bathes with her younger brother, and both are quite aware of the differences between boys and girls.

    I do in essence blame it on the patriarchy, and agree with her when she calls it unfair. But it’s also a part of life.

  29. I have no idea what I would say…I had truly never thought about it before. My saving grace is I put them both in the SPF shirts, and her brother wants to always wear his, even in the inside pool, so she sees boys wearing shirts too! lol. My son is so shy he actually feels more comfortable more covered up!

    If it makes any difference, I hate when boys and men are running around without their shirts on all summer driving their cars half naked, mowing their lawn at 45 with no cover. Like why do you think I want to see that? Unless you are Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise…I don’t want to see that.


  30. Came here from a twitter RT.

    I don’t have a little girl so haven’t had this come up, although my 2.5 y/o boy quite likes to walk around the house in mummy’s bra.

    It reminded me of my 70+ year old grandmother, when I was looking for a swimsuit at about 10 years old she said to my mum “I don’t see why little girls can’t go topless, they haven’t got anything up there yet.” I was a tomboy and having trouble finding a suit that wasn’t pink, i thought it sounded like a great idea!

  31. Allow me to quote Dar Williams, because I’m like that:

    I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
    Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
    My neighbor come outside to say, “Get your shirt,”
    I said “No way, it’s the last time I’m not breaking any law.”

    You know what’s really not fair? That men get to cover their thighs in American swimsuits as a matter of course but if women do, it’s seen as overly prudish or a sign that they’re too fat. That’s what bugs me every time I try on a suit.

  32. If I had a hypothetical 6 year old daughter who asked this question I’d blame the Patriarchy, the Puritans, American prudery and then let her scamper around topless πŸ™‚

    (of course I have NO idea how a bikini became part of her wardrobe in the first place. Haha)

  33. to be honest, seeing a small girl in a bikini top seems ridiculous to me. She’s got nothing to hide – let her run around without a top if she wants to.
    As for the explanation, you could say, “well, grown-up women wear tops to cover their breasts, and sometimes little girls like to look the same way. But you can wear whatever you like”.

  34. I think “that’s just the way it is” is NEVER the right answer, but I know you already know that. I’m very actively raising a feminist and, although she’s only just turned three, I (and my partner) am very serious about teaching her that she can be whoever she wants and do whatever she chooses as she grows.

    Still, these bullshit gender stereotypes find their way into our house nontheless and we confront every one. I think that’s my job. Not addressing them, to me, implies some level of comfort with them. But usually, when she asks me about some difference that she notices, I will ask her what she thinks it means. But I also tell her that girls/women are the most amazing, powerful, brilliant folks out there and that some people don’t think so and we need to ignore those people (or destroy them, but I’m saving that part of the message until she’s older).

    Back to the bathing suits for a moment – I think contemporary american bathing suits marketed to girls are disgusting and offensive for a lot of reasons. Bikinis on babies? Princesses? Hula grass? Cut-outs? My kid does not need to be sexualized, exoticized, or princessified thank you very much. We’ll stick with something comfy. And if it has polka dots, that’s even better!

  35. I was thinking about this today, because we went to my parents house for Father’s Day and my kids ended up in the neighbor’s sprinkler. We hadn’t planned on that, and didn’t have dry clothes, so I told them to take their clothes off. My 3 1/2 year old daughter stripped down with no hesitation and ran off, but my almost 6 year old son didn’t want anyone to “see him in his underwear.” So he took his shirt off and ran in his shorts. We are and always have been a family that is very open about nudity and doesn’t worry about closed doors. I think kids develop a sense of modesty on their own. (However, later in the afternoon, he got muddy and on his own stripped down completely naked and went to rinse the mud off in the sprinkler. And rode home wearing one of my mom’s t-shirts.)

    As for what to tell her, if it were me, I’d tell her at 6, she can wear what she wants, but when she gets older, most places will require her to wear a top.

  36. Came here from a Twitter RT although I’ve visited before. Great post and great discussion. I only have a 16 month old son, so this isn’t an issue for us (yet) but I will probably require all my kids to wear tops outside to prevent sunburn. For indoor swimming, my (future hypothetical) daughter(s) would wear one piece swimsuits. I think bikinis on little girls are ridiculous. For a younger child I think I would probably go with something along he lines of “our bodies are different so we wear different clothes”. For an older child I’d take the opportunity to discuss cultural labeling and expectations and how we feel about them.

    I want to know what the heck Jennifer means by this:

    “I firmly believe in complying with long-held societal norms.”

    So how would you have felt about blacks eating in the same restaurants as whites, circa 1960? I think this is a ridiculous barometer for how to live your life. C’mon, think for yourself. You may ultimately choose to follow the “socially accepted” path, but it should be for your own reasons.

  37. I remember wondering about this a child – I loved running around the house and yard topless on hot summer days, and I remember being somewhere in elementary school and simultaneously thinking this whole thing about women having to wear tops was stupid and also worrying about whether I was in fact already too old to be running around topless in the house. I had no idea that in some places in the world it was OK for women to be topless…

    Great post, Amy!

  38. i really think we have just over sexualized breast and that is the real answer but i probably wouldnt say that to her.

    this country makes such a big deal at breast and how we can use them to feed our childern where we want, or our childern to have to cover them up. in the end I think both shouldnt be such a big deal but because we have made them so sexual, we have to cover them and if we dont, we are considered names I will not say or hippies who feed kids without blankets

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  40. The sad truth is that there are perverts out there. Like it or not, it is a fact of life that these perverts will be sexually attracted to girls breasts. (For the record, I wouldn’t send my young son out in public without a shirt either.) I agree with Jennifer that the human body is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of. I also agree with teaching modesty and teaching children to appropriately cover their bodies. I will teach my children that they have been given winderful but private gifts that they will share with the ones that they love.

  41. “There are perverts out there” is the sort of saying that contributes to the problem. It’s meaninglessness implies serious exaggeration. Child sexual abuse in the western countries has been steadily declining, and that’s during the period when the Internet has risen to prominence in many aspects of many people’s lives.

    Modesty has little to do with what you wear. Automatically hiding body parts actually fosters the phobia and repression that girls and women suffer from so much — and yes, even the “perversion” the writer is so concerned with.

  42. My sister still played around the house topless during hot weather when she was about 10 yrs old, with breastbuds. We thought nothing of it.
    My mother would make her put a shirt on if we had company, and my dad always made her wear a shirt whenever he was home. When she reached about 11 or so she always wore a shirt.

  43. My husband and I were talking about this as we packing our bag for a fourth of July pool party (complete with a bikini top for our 13 month old that expertly matches her Apple Cheeks swim diaper:) ). His response was exactly the same as Emily’s up there in the blog – that men have it easier in all aspects of life. I was blown away by his response. My little little usually wears a rash guard and a swim diaper because we have very, very sensitive skin and we burn easily, and if she ever has brothers, they will wear rash guards too, for that reason. But, gosh, I don’t know, she’s only 13 months and rarely wears anything but a swim diaper (if she’s not totally naked)… so… I don’t know what I’ll say/do when she’s older.

  44. Wow, my comment is all over the place! Ha! She sometimes wears as much as a rash guard and diaper and other times wears as little as nothing at all. I don’t know how we’ll address it when she’s older πŸ™‚ That’s a way better answer!

  45. I don’t think it will be much of an issue for me since my kids will be wearing those swim shirts otherwise we burn like crazy (I’m a redhead, so you can imagine).
    I think on the other hand if your boys ask about skirts you could show them kilts. A boy appropriate skirt that they should not as easily get teased about. πŸ™‚

  46. I wish I could say I was happy with my answer to my daughter. I told her that I don’t like this, I think it’s unfair too, but that it’s the way our society feels about girls’ and womens’ chests. She’s still griping about it. She’s 11.5 and definitely developed enough to count as breasts. So frustrating but I’ve already had one CPS run-in (false charges by a mentally ill relative) and I just feel that I need to toe the line a lot more than I used to. We still unschool/Sudbury school, cosleep, ebf, but that’s one thing I just don’t think I can get away with anymore.

    Long and rambly, but I don’t have time to go back and edit. Sorry! You know how it is with little kids underfoot πŸ™‚

  47. Also, I know I’ve read that molestations and such are down, but even in the middle of reading the comments, I saw an amber alert come across my fb page. A little girl was taken from outside her home where she and her brother were playing. So far it looks like a random grab and go type thing. I’m thinking that it may be paranoia statistically, but that’s not much comfort to the girl’s family.

  48. Amber alerts have been shown in a few studies to be fairly useless except as publicity for police, who don’t need them to do their job.

    Obviously statistics are no comfort to anyone when she/he/they are on the wrong end of them. But the plural of “anecdote” is not “evidence.” Again, although child sexual abuse is serious, it is very rare; and the “stranger danger” the media so love is almost nonexistent. (Almost all of the few child abductions are by people known to the victim.)

    Child abuse cannot be reduced by telling girls to wear tops and promulgating that particular double standard and lie.

  49. I’m tempted to put something snarky about how sexism is sickeningly ingrained in our society, but I’ll abstain.

    If my daughter asks when she’s not yet developed enough to look different, I’ll probably just tell her she doesn’t have to wear the top. When she’s older, I’ll probably explain that she’s required to by law (indecent exposure crap) and that I don’t think it’s fair either.

  50. I actually can’t see my boys asking me this question because they also wear bathing suit tops (SPF shirts) every single time they go swimming. They’re far too pale to allow all that skin to cook in the sun, so they’re covered up, practically head to toe. Most kids I see are dressed this way now (we actually got the idea for the SPF shirts from all the moms in my moms group) so I can’t really think of a time where my kids see other boys shirtless at the pool. *shoulder shrug*

    I suppose if they do ever ask me things about bras or bikini tops, I’ll simply explain gravity.

  51. I enjoyed reading Sue’s experience from a location outside the (erotophobic/hypersexualized/sexist/patriarchal) United States. I am fairly certain I ran around without a top on just as often as my brothers did until I was at least 5 or 6 years old – maybe even 7 or 8? I have yet to be convinced that it does any good to ‘cover up’ an infant/toddler/child solely because her genitals do not match her brothers. Maybe we should learn to love and accept our bodies and be comfortable with them as they are.

    As per sex crimes – the problem lies in the person and in the society they grew up in. It does not reside within my daughter or her body. As another pointed out — if someone is getting excited about a 5 year old girl whose chest looks identical to the boys, they are likely the type of person who is also going to be fettishing over a 5 year old in a little bikini.

    I’ll opt for 1-piece suites when needed for social acceptability. At home or private beaches, she can wear, or not wear, whatever she likes.

  52. Bikinis and burkas are the same issue, if you want your right to wear whatever you want without being judged then you have to allow others to wear bikinis or burkas if they choose.

    The fact is that a little girl that is wearing a bikini or going topless isn’t “enticing” pedophiles any more than people who wear sandals are enticing people with foot fetishes. Wearing sandals doesn’t give anyone the right to rub my feet or make comments.

    If you want to bring this discussion down to the level of pedophiles, let me tell you what pedophiles look for, the look for those children who are easy to manipulate, who lack self-esteem, who are not well-bonded with their parents or don’t have open communication with their parents. They look for the kids that are desperate to please. They look for children who are alone a lot. Protecting your children from pedophiles means empowering them, informing them, communicating with them, and knowing when your child is unsafe away from you because of their own behaviour/maturity.

    On another tangent about “modesty”. Its an interesting term, you see I wouldn’t want my child to be modest -I don’t want them to be braggarts but I don’t want them to be unassuming, humble, free of vanity, etc. I’d like for them to be somewhere in the middle and just know who they are and what they are capable of of, take responsibility for their failures and not take credit for other peoples work-though I certainly accept that a lot of personality isn’t due to parenting. And as modest means free from ostentation or showy extravagance I would argue that naked is the most modest dress of all. You hide nothing, draw attention to nothing, you just are as you are. However I acknowledge that modest also means observing conventional proprieties – however conventions change and I am certainly free to attempt to push them in the direction I chose as I am a member of society. When I visit a church, synagogue, or mosque I certain observe their standards particularly as I am not a member of their society. But in my yard, my neighbourhood, or parks I don’t view shirts as required for women, and even less of an issue for girls.

  53. I would have just replied that it’s tradition. It’s one thing to fight the big battles and make them meaningful, but wearing a top is not a huge burden.

    There are just as many rules that make it harder on boys when it comes to dress — no pink, no skirts, no makeup, careful what you wear or you’ll be called names. My friend’s husband refused to let their little boy have purple frames on his eyeglasses because it was too colorful for a boy! I’d just say that our society makes up a lot of rules, and at home you can wear whatever you like — or out, if you want to take a stand. I’d support them either way, but I don’t think it’s a reason to take a stand against “the man.” πŸ™‚

  54. Actually, we practice more or less equality, but it’s that our boys wear shirts. We’re all fair skinned and burn-prone, so while I wear a tankini (or a one piece, but tankinis are better for nursing) my boys have some kind of lightweight shirt on with their trunks as well. All told, I probably show more skin than they do.

  55. If my daughter were to ask me that question I would probably tell her that is to train her for the future, that she will get breasts like her mother and since woman wear tops she should wear one as well. Although I agree 100% about the unfair inequality between men and women, not behaving or wearing lady-like garments is a issue for me. The way I was raised (and believe me I know is patriarchal and old fashion), girls were to wear tops, cross their legs when sitting (even if they were wearing pants) and be cute but not too forward so they wouldn’t be confused for sluts. All of these so boys wouldn’t take advantage of them or abuse them. And, by boys I mean all boys, including members of the family. In that sense although I understand why is unfair, I would hesitate to expose my child (this is not to say that you guys do). In my mind girls are always exposed to creeps and predators. Also I need to add, unfortunately some girls develop earlier that others. I got my breasts when I was 7 years old and my period just as I turned 10. Although you might see your children as children, other might notice changes in their physique that you don’t.

  56. Hi!
    Great topic πŸ™‚
    I have 2 boys, and 2 nieces that are the same ages as my boys. We do things pretty much even-steven around here. The boys wear swim suit tops, too! We’re in the pool pretty much all day several days out of the week and even with sunscreen, that would be too much sun exposure. So they wear long-sleeved sun shirts.

    We’ve had the opposite problem on occasion here – why do girls get to do/wear XYZ and boys don’t… which is really a social convention that we really don’t follow. My now 8yo ds wore a glittered butterfly barrette to school one day and no one said anything to him. They’ve worn nail polish and glittery hair spray just like the girls wear knee pads and are into rough and tumble sports.

  57. I guess I’d say boys and girls ARE different in many aspects. They should be TREATED with the same degree of respect and equality. But they ARE physiologically different. I would say that a women’s boobies are God given tools of nourishment and love and they should be treated with respect and care. Boys and girls have strengths and abilities in different things. That’s the way God made us.

  58. I haven’t read all of the postings, but we’re pretty modest family and we also live in a place that has lots of sunshine almost all year around. And, our boys wear swim shirts. Partly because of modesty and partly because we’re concerned about excessive sun exposure in a really hot, bright climate.

    Modesty is good thing for everyone, across the board and that’s something that we try to teach our kids.

  59. I make my sons wear shirts too! I am trying to protect their skinny pale bodies from the sun, so they wear scratch guards with a SPF. Probably not the answer you are looking for…

  60. Thank you, mystic-eye, for putting pedophilia in proper perspective. Pedophiles don’t go looking for naked or half-dressed children. Clothes don’t really protect anyone.

    It would be nice if other commenters here read this person’s comments before writing anything.

    Putting swimsuit tops on young girls is a particularly American habit/fetish. Some people act as if it’s the most sensible thing in the world. It’s ridiculous, and part of the sexual obsession, body phobia, and patriarchal repression that America leads the Western world in.

  61. I’d let my little girl go without a top if she didn’t want to wear one. Like it was said, why explain to a 6 year old that her chest may be viewed in a sexual manner if you can hold off a while πŸ™

  62. Here in Australia i guess we are lucky in some ways. I make all our kids wear a top to the pool or beach for sun protection, girls and boys, so i guess it’s not something i have ever had to worry about.

    However for the moment i’d probably just say, thats the way it is in the world today, Girls have to wear tops, i know it seems unfair, but thats just the way it is!

    Kids don’t need to know at that age, plus I’m sure all her girl friends wear tops too, so thats just what girls do!

  63. My kids all wear full tog-suits, you know the sunsafe ones that are like a full jumpsuit so there’s no gender discrimination! although I don’t make them wear them for that purpose, its for the sun protection, but I also don’t like my toddlers being eye candy for the paedophiles who are so often at public swimming places

  64. I live in British Columbia, and more specifically, in the Lower mainland where its okay for women to go out in public toppless- but no one does. And if you do you are pretty must gonna be stared at like you are crazy- I dont know for sure but I have a feeling people would be pretty put off by that. I mean, look how upset people get by public breastfeeding! But I like the principle behind it… why cant women go topless if men can ? We are equals now, right? And how are we to ever change these perceptions if we discourage our children from asking questions and letting them make those choices for themselves? Even at six years old girls and boys have a sexual side, and I think on some level your little girl would understand it if you told her that it makes people feel uncomfortable- if you let her go out in public topples she might decide that she feels uncomfortable. Its a hard one, because you want her to be a child and at 6 you dont have boobs! so I guess if she feels comfortable being out in public toppless I say let her! you are not victimizing her or opening her up to being sexualized because in the end, she is a child.

  65. My daughter (aged 3) and son (aged 4) both were tops when out at the beach, for sun protection.
    My daughter either just wears swim bottoms with a rash vest, a full rashie suit or a one piece with a rash vest over the top.
    i don’t purchase bikinis or anything of the sort for my daughter because I find it promotes sexuality, pretending something is there where it simply is not.
    My daughter prefers to be topless most of the time though and that’s fine, i never say anything about covering up.

  66. It is all an interesting thing to consider when you really think about it. Some men have bigger more robust breasts than some women so why shouldn’t they have to cover up. A nipple is a nipple weather it is on a man or a woman. Breasts are really just modified sweat glands. I never understood when I was little why women had to wear shirts and men did not. . . until I decided that it was too much for men in our society to handle. We’ve so sexualized breasts that if we were allowed to go topless at beaches. . . it would be mayhem. All people are flawed and puritanical rules like this one are proof of that.

  67. I haven’t made my daughters wear tops in instances where my son wouldn’t need to wear a shirt unless shirts are required for rule or sun protection reasons.
    Little girls do not have breasts to cover.
    My older kids started covering nudity in public long before puberty made it an issue.

    Legally, women in Ontario and maybe all of Canada do not need to wear a shirt where men are not required to wear a shirt.

  68. I have 2 young sons and I make them wear UPF sun protective swim shirts with their knee-length bathing suits to prevent sun damage. If I had a girl, I’d dress her the same way. I don’t think it’s a modesty or sexual issue so much as a health and safety concern. I wouldn’t let either gender run around naked and I wouldn’t buy an adult-style bikini-type bathingsuit for my daughters. Not only are they impractical for swim and play, but there is no reason for them to become ‘sexy’ before they are of appropriate age.

  69. Hello people!? You may not want to sexualize it but there are plenty of pedophiles out there who find your boys and girls very exciting. A semi-naked little girl is lusted after by some creepy men these days. They get the Target ads just so they can ogle the small kids. Sad but true! I have both my sons and daughters wear tshirts at the beach and pool.

  70. Tammy, please read what mystic-eye and I have written above. Your assumption is false and more likely to harm your children than making the opposite assumption.

    North America is full of fear-mongering over child sexual abuse. A populace in fear and confusion over something so basic as sexuality is weak, and ripe for other types of control. That’s also true of children.

  71. I have 3 boys and so I am not sure what I would say to a daughter if she asked me why she had to cover up because I don’t have one. I am sure I would say the same sort of thing to my son if he asked me why he couldn’t wear/do X. Don’t kid yourself ladies, little boys have just as many of the societal rules that little girls do. No sparkles, no “girly” colors, no dresses, skirts, dolls, no long hair etc. And we can all sit here and say, sure my son can wear that too, but the difference is that if a little girl under the age of 7 didnt have a bathing top on not many would comment, but send a boy out in a dress and nail polish at 7 and not only will the parents get comments but the boy will get negative ones as well, (and how is that for his self image?)
    Sometimes I feel that we try to make everything too equal…and yes burn me at the stake for saying it…but as the mother of only boys the inequality that they face right now is incredible…and they shouldn’t have to suffer because of the fight for feminism…they had no part in oppressing women.
    So the reason why little girls wear bikini tops is because their mommy bought it for them. :/

  72. “Sometimes I feel that we try to make everything too equal”

    That appears to confuse “equal” with “same,” although I’d agree that “equal” is a hard concept.

  73. I have to say that for me and my upbringing it was for modesty purposes. but I would not have a problem if boys were made to wear tops. I have 3 girls and all of them wear those wet suit styled swimsuits. I like them cause its easier for potty training and it keeps their shoulders covered (which in our family, we tend to burn there) Plus for me, as I got older and boobs got heavier I like the support of a top.

    So for me, after a certain age I think boys and girls should wear a top. Less chance of sun exposure and developing skin issues later.

  74. Doesn’t saying that both boys and girls should wear tops for skin protection avoid the question? Nonetheless, there are ways to avoid skin damage from sun exposure without clothing (and even without sunscreen).

  75. I find this whole discussion absolutely rediculous – if for no other reason at all, we should want to chothe our children in water or out in public to protect them…from what you ask? All of the predators that are out there watching your children at the public pool/beach/other public arenas. We live near the beach so are there a lot and I have presonally 2 times recently witnessed individuals (adults) photographing children, not their own, at the beach. No matter what your feelings about clothes are, the safety and protecting of our children should come first, and not some feminist agenda.

  76. I think that the bikini tops that they make for small girls only serve to sexualize soemthing that is not there, and would only serve to make pedophiles more aroused.
    When our daughter was small we did not make her wear tops on the beach, because her chest was no different than a boy’s. The best way to protect your kids from all the sickos out there is to never leave them unattended in public places like parks, beaches and swimming pools.

  77. Clothing optional. 2 year old boy already knows that boys have pee pee’s and girls don’t and that older girls get boobs. He loves to be naked and that’s fine by me, same when my little girl is old enough to run around. When she starts getting boobs and asks the question of why those boobs need covering I’ll tell her that a bunch of cooky old fools decided it a long time ago and it’s ridiculous and that covering up the boobs is something we really only do here and that we haven’t done it for that long, that the actual history of humans has women topless and using their boobs for what they are meant for, kids to eat (ever see a bull playing with a cow’s teets? Not likely).

  78. We only have one child, and he’s a 2 year old boy, so I haven’t ever had to get into this yet. But thanks to my fair skin that burns easily, he’s not going to be swimming in just trunks for a very long time. I have a long sleeved swim shirt that he wears along with his trunks. If we every have a little girl, she’ll wear the same thing… so as far as beach wear goes, there won’t be any differences (although I doubt I’ll be able to convince a 15 year old to put on a swim shirt, but I can hope, right? ;).
    On a similar subject, I was at Babies R Us last week, shopping for a shower gift, and I saw a sequined halter top in a 0 – 3 month size. Gotta cover up those boobies, but hey, let’s make em look sexy while we’re at it. Sigh. And we wonder why this country has such issues with public breastfeeding.

  79. Huh. My 6yo girl hasn’t noticed. Or hasn’t said anything. And I only put her in one piece suits anyway. But I’m totally going to start blaming the patriarchy, for everything, from now on. πŸ™‚

  80. I am a 42 year old man in the Great Lakes Region in the United States. I personally believe, and always have felt this way, that neither males nor females should be topless in public. I believe a truly modest man would not walk around the beach without some sort of top on. I usually wear either a short-cut tee-shirt or a tank-top shirt. I will not allow my sons to be topless anywhere in public. Nor will I allow my daughters to be. I prefer to teach children that even though the rest of the world has become less modest does not mean that it is right & proper. I trully believe that it is not proper for neither a man nor a woman to be topless in public.

  81. Well maybe a good answer might be that one time boys and men did wear tops when they went swimming. In fact often their bathing costumes were one piece covering from their knees to their shoulders.
    Maybe we should come up with a boys bathinng costume that covers move especially for boys and men who might be shy about just swimming in trunks. Simply use masculine colours and men might find the option inviting. They often swim with caps so why not?

  82. Somewhat one-sided reaction.
    Look at the picture – which I presume you provided.
    She covers up a bit of her chest which he doesn’t; he has to cover up all of his thighs which she doesn’t.
    Neither rule makes sense but, taken together, they are not sexist.

  83. Call me old fashioned, or what not. (please know I am also an attachment parent here)

    Why are you putting a top like that on your daughter? It’s almost sexualising her? I feel uncomfortable seeing little girls run around in bikinis. I feel uncomfortable due to the sexualised nature, pushing them to look grown up and the lack of sun protection.

    Both my son and daughter swim with rash vests on. And on a few odd later occasions have swum with just their underwear on.

  84. Hi Amy,

    I didn’t mean it as an attack towards anyone in general, more rhetorical.
    I find it really frustrating when I see little 3 year old girls (even younger) wearing things such as leopard print ruffled bikinis. I think it’s not appropriate on many levels. So I was venting that issue on top of societal pressures on how children, both male and female are ‘suppose’ to behave/dress.

    Sam πŸ™‚

  85. Why should anyone swim with clothes? Our kids swim nude and so do we. In Vermont, nudity is legal. We live in a nudist resort in Florida.

  86. To us, swimsuits should be outlawed. We (wife, kids and us) swim nude and we live nude. Naturism is not sexual and we live in a nudist resort. We know where our kids are.

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