My parents and I immigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1977. Something about religious freedom and not being called "Kikes", according to them. According to my third grade classmates in my new found land of freedom and opportunity, who glanced at the above photo of the three year old me, it was so that I wouldn't have to bear the humiliation of going to the beach topless. With a "Rosemary's Baby" Mia Farrow haircut that did me no favors. For the historian in you, the photo was taken on the Black Sea, at Leselidze. Apparently there's a war raging there now. Hopefully not over my topless photo. (Incidentally, when I showed this photo to my husband, he said, hand on my heart, "which one is you?")
Style and consumerism, notwithstanding, it's always been a huge mystery to me why pre-pre-pre-pubescent girls wear bikini tops to the beach, the water park, anywhere where their male counterparts and sometimes nemeses are topless. Surely, it's not for modesty's sake. Let me just say this and get it out of the way--putting a bikini top on a three year old sexualizes her a hell of a lot more than letting her go topless.
And it's more than preference. I've heard of water parks enforcing a rule that a female toddler must have a top (oh, if there were an issue that I would love to see this Supreme Court tackle), other mothers' disapproval if a toddler is topless, mothers putting on a two piece suit on their diaper-wearing daughters in swim class.
To mix metaphors, a toddler needs a bikini top like a fish needs a bicycle. I was reading the excellent "Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know About Sex and Were Afraid They'd Ask" and there was mention of how the Victorians were so scandalized by the suggestiveness of a piano leg that they outfitted them in skirts. Really? Because if a piano leg is suggestive, there are bigger issues at play.
Yet the piano leg reappears. "I don't want perverts seeing my daughter topless," parents will explain. Or would explain if I were the kind of freak to approach strangers and suggest that they rip their daughters' top off. Please. I have enough problems maintaining eye contact. But I get the pervert issue and it makes me want to buy my kids burkhas. But I hold firm on the bikini tops.
Another explanation is that it's not modesty, it's for sun protection. That's ok, but if your kid is wearing the toddler equivalent of pasties, it doesn't fly. And make sure that your son is wearing a t-shirt, too, because, you know, if he's running around in just bottoms, it makes people suspect that you are sexist in your sun damage assessment risks.
But I do get it. And I think that the reason that most of us slap a bikini top on our daughters is that we don't want them to stand out. Society sells two piece bathing suits, and who are we to pass them up? They are a hell of a lot more comfortable than the one piece whole body suits (does anyone still use the word "maillot"?) and they are adorable. We like the MiniMe sans the stretch marks look.
But are we inching towards clothing the piano? And is it worth it?
In our Britney-driven society, isn't this sort of a small issue? I mean, these toddlers are pre-conscious, who the hell cares what they wear or don't wear. Absolutely. And yet.