Monday, August 27, 2012

On Young Girls' Swimwear: Baby-Bikinis and the Lack of One-Piece Swimsuits for Underage Girls

The word "underage" in the title really means prepubescent, or outwardly nowhere near puberty. 

If you live in the West (and/or in the U.S.), have you ever gone to the beach or swimming pool and noticed that not one little girl, say under 8 years of age, is topless, that aaaaaall the girls, from toddlers to, say, 8-year-olds wear a two-piece swimsuits? Why do you think this is?

Well, in July, I had a Facebook status and a tweet that went something like: When I go to the beach/swimming pool, I never see little girls (oh, say ... from toddlers to around 7, 8 years old) with bare chests; they're always wearing mini-bras or other tops that cover their flat chests, even though they are nowhere close to developing breasts. So why do they always have a top on? It's not like they've anything to cover. What's the logic behind it, y'all?

I got some very interesting responses, which I want to share here.

Facebook responses:

1. I was talking about the same thing earlier!! My aunts were like "boys its alright (1 yr olds) if they've nothing on and somebody walks in but girls you always have to make sure they are clothed" i mean what the heck! 

2. I think that our first instinct is to protect our girls from the prying eyes of pedophiles which unfortunately leaves our boys more vulnerable to the pedophiles who prefer boys. I think that covering the girls at that age is just grooming them to do so later. Double standard...

My response: Good point that it leaves the boys more vulnerable to the pedophiles. With that kinda logic, if that's how most parents reason in it, what, so make these itty bitty girls cover their chests, even though they got no breasts and are not even about to have them yet? Definitely another maddening double standard of our society.

3. What's worse is when they actually have mini bras on. If anything, I think, it's bringing more attention to them from pedophiles, increasing wring kind of attraction, which defeats its intended purpose. 

My response:  Mini-bras! YES! What's with the swimsuits for these little girls? And, true, it does attract more attention than it repels it. It accentuates their would-be sexualized parts of the body. And I highly doubt all the women cover their chest so as to repel pervs.  

4. You guys are discussing a very important topic here.
I would include, even making 7.8 years old girls wear Saadar [hijab] is also sexualizing them. You actually want them to cover those breasts (which are not even there).

My response: true - in fact, I think one way to look at the whole hijab/niqab is that it sexualizes women; this is true particularly for those who do it for "safety" purposes. [But this is only one of the many, many ways to view the hijab/niqab. They serve different purposes for different people.]

Twitter Responses:

1. how is that even an issue?Do u sit around inventing things to be pissed off about? Why do girls play with dolls? Why short-hair?
Then later on: no seriously, i usually get what you're angry abt. Im totally lost on this one.

My response: Those r equally legitimate questions. But they've been asked before. Meh, it was just a wonder. Not for u to think abt, dont worry.
1's response:  i still think little kids are told 2 cover not bczof perverts, but mostly to cultivate haya; it should be done in boys/girls
Me: it sexualizes little girls who really have nothing sexual abt them yet. Does this make sense? If not, wait till u blog on it. But you see, women covering chest makes sense. Girls who don't have breasts yet doesn't. "Cover it anyway. So men don't look at ur bare chest"?

[later on]: Haya? At th beach/swimming pools in the u.s.? Little underage girls wearing tops flat-chested? R we talking abt the same thng here? How does having the girls cover their flat chests teach them anything about modesty? And, honestly, I highly doubt it's a modesty issue. It'd be really weird if modesty ideals were set to be the same for both little girls/toddlers and prepubescents AND adult women! Don't you think? Also, how do you teach the same thing to boys? If boys their age (under 8), also flat-chested, had to wear tops when swimming, too, there'd be nothing to discuss. But they don't.

2. Its a good question. They learning to wear the costume:)

3. it isn't socially accepted if they show their chests I guess. Helps give them identity. Same reason some families force their daughters to wear hijab at a young age. Gives them the identity for a 'Muslim woman'.
But surprisingly I remember seeing my 5-year-old cousin wearing just partoog [pants, bottoms] when swimming!

4. good question. Probably the same reason they wear skirts and not trousers: reinforcing identity in terms of their gender..? [Then later:] they can wear pink trousers too. It could just be that the swimsuits are that way to reinforce the fact that she's a girl-
My response: becuz you can't tell she's a girl unless her not at all developed chest is covered? ;) They can wear pink n "cute" swimsuits to assert their identy! But they're too young to be wanting to do that, no? But even so, what about all other ways a female can be identified? Looks, hair, the "cute" pink bottom she can wear, voice? More importantly, why is this identification so important to begin with?

5. I can't find the exact tweet, but someone asked me why this mattered at all. And I replied that, as a Gender Studies student, I cannot help but observe how different genders behave in public (or in private), what sorts of lifestyles are imposed on each gender and for what purposes. And, of course, I cannot tolerate the sexualization of little girls.

6. There r those sick people who are still able to see it even if it does not exist.
Then: little girls want to copy their mothers, just like in Pak they want to wear dopatta [hijab] here they want to hv the the whole costume
My response: ya, thats when girls grow up a bit that they imitate. What abt when they're toddlers? Once in a while, fine; every time, prob! Plus, I highly doubt these young girls know what's going on--their parents and others around them impose this style of clothing on them. Otherwise, what else explains why *every* single girl does it, right?

7. we dont see them like this becuase that is what our culture is like and to me this is neither bad nor good its just the way we r
My response: I'm a gender studies studnt; its my job to make such observations n question these norms. Thers always mor to it than jst culture.

There were so many other great replies, but Twitter is taking forever to take me to my tweets from late July and early August when I tweeted about this subject. So I'm sorry I can't share the rest. I will if I can ever access them.

If you've got other thoughts, please feel free to share them. I really would like to know why it is culturally unacceptable in the West for flat-chested girls to go topless when swimming.

So. To restate the issue, in case it is not already very clear:
Very young girls, who are nowhere close to reaching puberty--from toddlers to, say, 7- or 8-year old girls (or older - not all girls physically mature at the same age)--go swimming in mini-bikinis that cover their chests. They are just as flat-chested as boys their age (or all males) are, but they have to cover their chest while men don't, even though neither of them has anything that needs to be covered. Why is this so?

I take Kashmala swimming (she just turned three, by the way), and poor thing - she's always the only girl with no top on there. Worry not: she doesn't realize it matters, and I am not going to have her do something completely pointless that is actually harming her as a female (explained below).  This one time, people thought she was a boy. What the hell? You can't tell she's a girl unless I pretend she's a prepubescent girl and cover her completely flat chest, putting a min-bra on her? That's ridiculous. 1. Why do you even need to know whether she's a girl or a boy? 2. What are your criteria for determining the gender of a human? 3. What about her looks, her colorful bottoms (totally gendered), her hair length, her voice--everything else that makes her femininity very apparent?

In Pakistan, when we'd go swimming (we as in little girls and boys, all of us under 13), all of the boys and the girls would have only pants/bottoms on. None of us, even the girls, had any tops on, even when I was 12, during my last months in Pakistan, I didn't wear a top when swimming. Yes, yes, it is very interesting how these things are dealt with in both cultures, especially if it's to do with modesty; it reveals a lot about our ideas of sexuality as well as how we sexualize women from the time they are very young. You talk about pedophilia? This disease is rampant in every society, and Pakistan is no exception to it. You can't be serious when you say, "Look, our girls have to be protected, okay?" Really? First of all, these girls are never alone at the beach or swimming pools and whatnot; they're always surrounded by family members and/or other adults. Second, a pedophile or another pervert is not going to not stare at a little toddler's or any other flat-chested girl's chest just because she has a top on; in other words, that top is no help in preventing pedophilia, and you know that very well. 

Why little girls shouldn't be wearing mini-bras and otherwise covering their flat chests

Little girls, including toddlers, are made to cover their completely flat chests because of the expectation (and the fact) that they are going to grow up and eventually develop breasts and will have to cover therm when swimming. We do it to set women and men apart, reminding these little girls of ours that "Hey, you're NOT a man, okay? You're not a boy--and this is why you have to cover your chest. You have to be identified as a female, as a girl...." as if it her sex or gender really matters at this age, or at least while she is swimming!

When a physically mature female covers her chest, it means that she and others recognize the signs that her body has developed, she acknowledges the existence of something that is actually there. But why does a little flat-chested girl have to wear a bra for? What is she covering? Again, if it's an effort to repel pedophiles or negative attention from her of any kind, understand that it's actually attracting negative attention because she's covering something that's not really there.

Is this about "freedom"? Absolutely not. At least not for me. I think it has nothing to do with freedom, although I would understand anyone who does believe it is about freedom--the freedom to go topless at a stage in your life when you can. But this is about making sexual entities of women from the time they are very young, physiologically immature; this is about a cultural expectation and "practice," if you will, that we have that really has no benefit and no purpose at all but instead harms an entire gender. How does it harm this gender (the women)? By bringing attention to their body rather than repelling attention from it. Again, this has nothing to do with pedophilia; it's not a response to pedophilia; it's not a preventative measure against pedophilia. If it were even remotely related to pedophilia, then you wouldn't be giving me these evil and judgmental glares when you see me playing in the pool/beach with top-less Kashmala.

In reality, we do this because we want girls to grow up and see themselves as nothing more than sexual objects. They don't object because they can't object. They probably even like it -- remember when you were a kid and couldn't wait to grow up and would wear your mother's clothes and shoes and make-up and all? My siblings and my cousins and my friends would always do this when we were kids, and most other kids do the same thing. Kashmala, too, sometimes will refuse to wear anything her own and wear something of mine (or my sisters'), and she loves make-up. But the kids have no agency in this; we don't let them do this because they like it; we have them do this because of the different cultural expectations we've set for each gender (and remember: we recognize only two, man/boy and woman/girls!). And this is how we institutionalize gender roles and expectations; this is how we set standards and determine whom to exclude and whom to include.

And then when I go swimming fully covered (yes, I swim fully clothed), everyone stares at me. Let's agree that I'm confusing you (since I'm totally covered and my niece, also a girl but barely 3 years old, only has a bottom, and you probably expect her to be completely covered as well, knowing nothing about how my culture and religion work) as much as you're confusing me. But understand this. I'm actually fully covered for the same reason that my 3-year-old niece is not covered. Does this make sense? 

Bottom line: You got nothing to cover? Don't cover it. Why cover it? What's the logic behind it? I would appreciate any answers, especially from those whose little girls dress like this when going swimming. Surely, you've thought about this before; you wouldn't do something without thinking about the reasons behind it, right?

If, however, it's simply that: "Look, dude, this is how our culture works, okay? Love it or leave it," then you've totally missed the point.


  1. why do girls with something have to cover their chest???

  2. That's not the point, but do you wanna take a guess?

  3. Why do the adult girls with fully developed breasts; cover only half or even less than half of it?

    1. ? They would probably ask, "Why can't we do that? How is that any of your business or concern?"

      But you, too, are missing the point of this issue.

      Thanks for your responses nonetheless, folks :)

    2. If this reply was given by a female and not janan khan, would you have said '' how is that any of your business...?'' Doesn't that make you a sexist?

    3. My response wasn't directed to a male necessarily, though. I would've said the exact same thing to a female. My point was that people have the right to choose what to wear and what not to wear, and we shouldn't hold them to our (personal, religious, cultural) standards.

    4. I am not objecting anyone's right. I am trying to know that why are girls doing that??? Will it be okay for a man to show half of his...... in the public??? And if he shows then it definitely wants to attract the opposite sex for........

    5. I don't think it's just because they want to attract the opposite sex. There are many, many reasons why someone might do that other than just trying to get attention or to attract someone.

    6. Would you like to explain the many other reasons?

    7. Sure. You see, I think it's a huge mistake to assume there's always just one reason for anything someone does. In this particular case, perhaps that's how they understand freedom; perhaps they feel free in being able to wear whatever they'd like and not have anyone else dictate to them what the proper dress code is. Or perhaps what they wear reflects their personality or otherwise who they are; many people see their dressing style as a piece of art, as an expression of their creative selves. Or perhaps they're playing along with fashion trends of their time/society (which helps explain why little girls, even toddlers, have to wear little mini-bras and mini-bikinis and other tops).

      Also, remember that all societies have a different sense, a totally different understanding of modesty and immodesty. It's immodest in most Muslim communities for a woman to be out without a head covering, for example (and it's not immodest in other Muslim societies), whereas, in most non-Muslim societies, that's not an issue at all. In some communities worldwide, it's immodest to be half naked, and in others it's not. However, we should also remember that where and how a person's modesty and immodesty is measured and defined differs from specific places--e.g., at beaches and swimming pools, it's considered okay for women to wear bikinis and such, but it's not considered okay to do so outside of that particular space.

      Makes sense to you? My point is, we should try to imagine all possible reasons for why someone is doing what they're doing and not assume that it's only for attention or other silly efforts.

      Thank you for participating in this conversation! Your insight is appreciated very much :)

    8. Very good point there Qrratugai. I work in public transport in Australia and I suppose someone who drops in unaware would be forgiven for thinking that Australia is very free and easy when it comes to dress. And be forgiven for thinking unkindly on the character of the women here. I understand that completely.
      However, it IS far more nuanced than that. Just because a young woman is dressed in a short skirt and high heels attracts your attention does not mean it is her intention. 9 times out of 10, you will notice she is with her friends, dressed exactly the same way. If you saw her on a Monday morning, she'll be dressed for work in a modest blouse and skirt/ or trousers. Or a school uniform. Or a work uniform. From my observations; I find that most people dress to conform with their status, their friends their religion or their culture. I do agree with what you said there and yes, even here we DO have standards of what is acceptable and people in general are very conscious on how they portray themselves. Interestingly, a couple of department stores in Australia had to withdraw 'mini- bras' for children because of the outcry from parents. Sorry if my comment was too long :)

    9. Oh, no, no - not at all long! :) Never apologize for sharing something as important as that, Demon! Besides, the longer the comment, the more I value it!

      Exactly. They usually wear the same kind of clothing that they wear (and so do we) with each other, with other women (even if in all-female circles online), and around other men. You said it very well when you said, "Just because a young woman is dressed in a short skirt and high heels attracts your attention does not mean it is her intention." This is so to the point. And this is precisely where we are wrong in making assumptions and casting judgment: why could her "seeking attention" be the only possible reason for what she's wearing?

      Thank you for your response! So glad you dropped by :)

    10. In all cases whatever they wear in whatever case giving a message to someone for something. As for as I understand it falls in the category of non-verbal communication.

  4. I know thats not the point, but i like mine open :P why hide anything at all?

  5. Yeah, why do they? And why do men cover themselves too? When you figure it out, do lemme know. :D

  6. As it is wearing of elders during swimming so child do it due to custom/psychological like habit.
    It is like many Pashtoon child girls start wearing dopatta before young age either impressed by looking at elder females wearing it (and start copying) Or elders say to wear dopatta so that to adopt them to it for coming age.

    1. Thank you for your insight, Raees Khana! It was shared by someone else above in the post, and I responded to it there as well :)

  7. Its like asking why girls wear pink and boys blue. girls have two distinct hiding ares in cpmarsion to boys, and jst like boys hide their one area no matter at wat age girls do it too, no matter at wat age.

    If u really have so much free time at ur hand than y dont u wonder y u wipe urself in bathroom y dont clean urself with water.

    Ms. Pink

  8. when I was a yong girl with flat chest I was once wearing a dress with very small holes, and I had to deal with a pedo due to that dress, he made some sexual comments on my dress and gender and I felt awful and unsafe.

  9. Let me answer you with this:

    What is the rate of molestation in young girls?

    & here I am only talking about "molestation" & only young flat chest little girls.


  10. I am a girl and I was molested when I was a kid. It was a horrifying experience.

  11. they get photographed their early childhood and they can show it off to friends famiky and bf after they grow up. Pretty Nasty


Dare to opine :)

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