“Dad where are my swimsuit bottoms with the ruffles?” my 7-year-old, Emersyn, screams as she turns over her dresser drawers in frustration.
I laugh and help her locate the errant swimsuit: a long-sleeved rash guard with matching pink ruffles on the butt.
Breaking my concentration, a new voice suddenly beckons from across the room, “Dad, can you help tie up my top?”
My 13-year-old, Viviana, approaches me with her arms crossed, holding up her little, pink bikini top as its strings drape over her shoulders. She stands virtually eye-to-eye to me now. I dutifully tie a tight bow before she walks off in a two-piece bathing suit that I can only describe as an intersection of a dad’s nightmare and teenage boy’s dream.
I’m thankful for summer, but not for the dad dread of my young daughters in swimsuits.
When our daughters are small, the suits are cute – adorned with ruffled butts and cartoon character bellies. There is little worry of adequate coverage from the sun (or a creepy old guy). Emersyn, in fact, could not care less about what she is wearing in the pool as long as the suit does not interfere with her ability to dive for the pennies I toss to her in the shallow end.
A swimsuit style change is a gonna come
Something changes, though, during the middle school years – between 11 and 14-years-old.
Our kids’ swimsuits begin to show more skin, with far less fabric and more pieces, sold in “look at me” colors, purchased with the direct thought of what others might think when they see them at the beach, pool, or on their Insta story.
No dad can prepare for the inevitable day when this happens. Just as our daughters graduate from ruffles and Minnie Mouse to bright pink and visible cleavage, we dads must evolve. And, as we come around to the forced idea that our little princesses are now little women, we will have to help them protect themselves while simultaneously improving their own body image.
This is hard work.
When I saw Viviana’s first such smallish swimsuit a few years ago, I immediately recoiled, “OH MY GOD. Did Mom say that was OK to buy? That seems a little mature.”
That was not the best of reactions.
It is easy to stomp your feet and throw down mandates as it relates to what your kid is allowed to wear. In doing so, though, dads may be walking ourselves into an inevitable rebellion. Moreover, we have a responsibility to help our children carry a positive body image.
Maybe the confidence required to wear a bikini to the beach is cause for celebration. Viviana’s strong. She is empowered. She feels comfortable in her own skin (although too much skin for my liking). Look at my young girl go!
Reacting to her itsy bitsy teenie weenie bikini
Or maybe I can take the opportunity to provide Viviana with a guy’s perspective of her minimal-ish swimsuit. This approach is complicated.
First, I should not be cringy. I would if I commended her confidence and told her she is beautiful. Next, though, I would try to explain that boys will certainly be checking her out – potentially oversexualizing her appearance as their hormones rage. Further, I would assure her that despite these young men fighting pubescent immaturity, there is no excuse for being objectified or disrespected for what she is wearing.
Rest assured, I will worry about her all the while kicking around the thought that I should have just told her no.
But, when Viviana asks me to tie her bikini top, I will smile and help while internally puckering. I will want to react but will fight the urge to impose my prejudiced machismo on her influential body image and self-esteem. Viviana will walk off with half a butt cheek showing and I will shake my head and stay silent. I want to yell, “Get back in the house and cover up!”
And, just when I wallow in the thought that my little girl is no longer, Emersyn’s ruffled butt dives into the water and splashes me back to this moment.
I throw the penny near her. As Emersyn returns to the surface with her arms in the air triumphantly and a gooey string of snot dripping from her 8-year-old nose, she exclaims, “Daddy, found the penny again!”
Raising daughters for dads is great and hard. Emersyn is a joy. So is her sister. Even when our girl’s swimsuit butt ruffles give way to virtually nothing at all.