Tuesday, July 13, 2010

sexual child vs. sexualization of childhood

We were at the pool this morning and my 2-year old daughter was not happy about wearing her swimsuit. I can't blame her. I hate wearing a swimsuit myself; that cold sticky feel when it's wet. So I always wear a bikini, even now, with my droopy belly. In any case, she wanted hers off and had we been in Norway, I would gladly have let her run around naked as do all the other kids there through the toddling years. But when I once let my daughter run around naked for a little bit here here while I was getting us ready to leave the pool, even a friend of mine (a very laid-back art history teacher) made a comment. Here all little boys and girls wear swim trunks or swimsuits, or bikinis. Which I find ridiculous. I mean, putting a bikini top on a 2-year old girl, as if there was something to cover up?

(My daughter, Lilly, in her swimsuit at the City pool.)

My daughter has one of these bikinis, courtesy of her American grandma, and she'd probably feel more comfortable in it. But I refuse to let her wear it with the top. And a few years ago, I read in the newspaper that a mom at a pool in one of Minneapolis' suburbs had been arrested for letting her 2-year old daughter wear only a bikini bottom with no top.

I brought this up to another mom at the pool this morning, and she thought in our small college town, people wouldn't mind. So I'm considering testing the case. And protest if they make an issue out of it.

Sure, children are born sexual beings, as asserts sexuality educator Debra W. Haffner in From Diapers to Dating. A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children. But in our culture, they are sexualized in a way that is not healthy but rather a symptom of our culture's unhealthy relationship to sexuality, as discusses Sallie Tisdale in Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex.

In Norway, even women my mom's age (she's in her seventies) sunbathe topless at the beach. Though their saggy boobs may not be a pretty (or sexy) sight, nobody thinks of it. In the US, there's a public uproar when Janet Jackson has a "wardrobe malfunction" momentarily revealing one of her breasts while performing at the Super Bowl. I don't see any women topless at the pool, nor girls, expect for very young baby girls.

While I agree with the general gist of the anthology The Sexualization of Childhood, I don't agree with its frantic approach to the matter. What we need instead is a sober and wholesome approach to children's sexuality and their sexual development. When my 2-year old daughter is prone to pleasuring herself, it's not a result of watching sexually explicit media on TV (we don't have TV); it's a result of early potty training. Without a diaper, she just has much easier access to her yoni.


In the end, I was happy I kept her in her swimsuit today because, alas, she had a little accident as I discovered when we got ready to leave. The thick suit kept the poop in (till some fell on the deck by our lounge chair as I was getting her out of her swimsuit, then more on the toilet stall floor, and wall, as I was trying to clean up the messy business). Fortunately, the pool staff (who instantaneously appeared at the scene with a bucket of bleach) was very cool about it, "we've seen worse, no worry, we're just gonna pour this bleach on it..."). I was more upset (as in not proud at all) with my own reaction: a sort of nervous apologizing, reassuring them it has never happened before (it hasn't) and that's she's very good about her elimination (which she is; she even asks to go to the toilet stall to pee when we're at the pool). So it was an accident, accidents happen. We don't make them better by fretting over them. It's just embarrassing to the child.

At least I was able to catch myself in time to contain the situation and not make a deal about it when we came home to have lunch with papa. Ah, the art of parenting. And eliminating.


  1. I don't think anyone would blink at a 2 year old in only swimsuit bottoms at the pool. It's no different than a baby walking around in just a diaper, and plenty of girl babies do that. Also--what saggy belly, are you kidding me?! I saw you in that bikini last week! ;)

  2. I also think we here in America have a dysfunctional view about swimsuits. When we took a short trip to the Mediterranean a few years ago, we witnessed a group of children, both boys and girls, maybe 5-10 years old, completely change their clothes right on the beach. There was no staring, no awkwardness. I envied them and the attitude they were able to have about their nakedness. It's natural! Everyone has a body!

  3. At age 6 my oldest daughter finally asked to be allowed to go into the bathroom and change her swimsuit after a pool day...but before then, she was happy to change right there under the big green umbrella. I change my little ones too, right out there in the grass and stare right back at people when they scowl at the nakedness. It's crazy. We also , regularly, have naked girls running around in our very open, public, corner lot backyard. And neighbors who are extremely bothered by it...so sad for them.


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