Tweens Shouldn’t Wear Bikinis (But Babies Should)

How to know when it's okay for your daughter to show some skin.

Summer is officially over—you can tell by yesterday’s tornado warnings—but bikinis are back in the news. Last week, Jessica Simpson felt the public’s scorn when she showcased a photo of her infant Maxwell in a homemade yellow crochet bikini. British child welfare charity Kidscape called the outfit “totally inappropriate.” The charity’s director Claude Knights said, “Celebrity choices carry great influence, as can be seen by the manner in which their accessories and manners are copied widely. It is hoped that parents will understand that ‘baby bikinis’ are totally inappropriate and that they contribute to the sexualization and commercialization of childhood.”

A few days later, Kidscape also came out against model and actress Elizabeth Hurley for her line of children’s bikinis, claiming the modeled photos of the swimsuits on the website were too sexy.

Hey, I get it. We live in a world where beloved football coaches and philanthropists can turn out to be disgusting sexual predators and where shows about little girls wearing more makeup in one day than I wear all year are the most popular on television. But does that mean that no one under the age of 18 should wear a two-piece bathing suit? I’m not so sure.

One look at Maxwell Simpson in her baby bikini and any sane, rational person will realize instantly that it is not a sexual image. You might not think it’s cute, but it’s definitely not provocative or stirring.

Infants spend a majority of their time naked—or at least in the process of dressing and undressing. Adding a few swaths of material doesn’t change anything. Chubby little arms and legs and bellies—whether they’re in a bikini or not—are about as sexy as a potato.

But this reasoning doesn’t apply to the photos of kiddie swimsuit models on Hurley’s website. These are girls old enough to ask for privacy in the bathroom, old enough to have crushes on boys, old enough to know what sex is. While I support women of every age wearing whatever makes them happy, if my niece pranced around Ocean City’s Ninth Street beach looking like the girl pictured below, I wouldn’t be pleased.

There is something disconcerting about a girl on the brink of womanhood wearing something so overtly sexy—even if the intentions are innocent. It makes me uncomfortable in the same way that Toddlers & Tiaras does: This is sexualizing young girls and forcing them toward adulthood they are not physically or emotionally prepared for. And that’s what Kidscape should find “totally inappropriate.”