Swimsuit season is upon us and legions of moms are already faced with finding bathing suits for our daughters. For our sons, it’s a no-brainer — every store sells board shorts and rash guards. Easy.
But for our daughters, this is pretty near impossible.
When I was growing up in the 70s, I only remember my sisters and me ever wearing a standard one-piece bathing suit to the pool, the lake, or the beach. I don’t recall any other more modest options — but then again, I never saw any little girls wearing bikinis, either.
When my first daughter was a toddler, I used to love watching her splash in the ocean and play in the sand. She looked so cute in her little frilly pink bathing suit. So innocent and sweet. I didn’t give any thought to what she wore back then. As she got older, swimwear became more of an issue. She became very self-conscious of her body by age nine. She wanted a two-piece swimsuit to fit in — but she no longer wanted to jump off the dock or run on the beach.
She seemed to have lost her love of the water. Even though her swimsuits were conservative by many standards, she still felt like her body was more important than anything else and it had to be perfect.
I struggled with this. I wanted her to wear a modest swimsuit, but I hadn’t realized the importance of starting young. Now that she’s a teenager, it is very difficult to find something that is acceptable to both of us. I want her to be comfortable. What is comfortable about a sunburned back and shoulders? Who wants to be slathered with sunscreen every half hour? Who enjoys sand all over their bodies?
Let's face it — there is nothing comfortable about most swimsuit offerings for girls today. Laces come loose around the neck and back, and tiny triangles barely cover who knows what.
Of course, any mention of the word "modesty" brings on eye rolls and muttering. Many people today think modesty means oppression — covering up out of fear and narrow-mindedness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Modesty brings freedom — the freedom to be comfortable in your skin. The freedom to not compare your thighs with anyone else. The freedom to be more than just a sexual object.
Parents think nothing of putting their little ones in itty-bitty bikinis because it is "cute." Those of us who don't think it is appropriate are told we are sexualizing little girls and shouldn't be so judgmental. But that little girl will become an older girl, a teenager, a young woman — and that's when the choices we make when they are young really start to matter.
If we are concerned about the early sexualization of our girls, we have to be cognizant of the fact that swimsuits matter. Why do we persist in putting our girls in revealing bathing suits? Imagine your daughter in her underwear going for a walk down the street. Why do we say no to that, yet it is OK on the beach? Clearly there is a disconnect.
Now that I am the mother of two more girls, ages 4 and 3, I have approached swimwear very differently. I have found rash guards and short pants and skorts that cover their thighs. Rash guards and shorts are perfectly appropriate for girls. A colorful rash guard paired with swim skorts is very nice, too. With my young girls, I have dressed them modestly for the beach since they were babies. I want them to know from a very young age that just because "everyone else" wears revealing swimsuits, they do not have to do so.
I dress my sons modestly, too. My boys never go swimming without a rash guard. I believe they should dress modestly for the same reasons as my girls. Of course, it's very easy to go to Walmart and find appropriate beach attire for my boys. For my girls, it takes a lot more work. Thankfully there are more options beyond the retail stores at the mall. A simple Google search yields many options for modest swimwear. It's true that some are more expensive, but certainly the value of teaching our children modesty outweighs the cost.
Modesty is revolutionary. It is taking back our dignity from the bathing suit manufacturers who think our girls should expose their bottoms and everything else.
It is making our daughter truly comfortable, so that by the time she is nine she isn't too self-conscious to run around the beach or go for a swim or play beach volleyball. It gives her the power of her body — strong, capable, and personal instead of something for public scrutiny. It empowers her to love herself and her body.
If she can run, jump, and swim without having to adjust straps every few minutes, then she has the right swimsuit.
Let's teach our daughters that modesty is not about hiding their bodies, but about revealing their self-respect.
Let's let our girls jump off the dock — and emerge with dignity.
Catherine Adair is a Catholic wife, mother, speaker, and blogger who is passionate about her faith and promoting the sanctity of life. She lives in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.