Let's Talk About Bikinis and High Heels For Kids

I see lots of kids in bikinis, and I don’t know about you guys, but I have never once said, “Wow, that is one sexy toddler.”

I wouldn’t trade my son for anything, but sometimes I wish he had been born a girl. Because let me tell you something about baby clothes: the “girl” stuff is way cuter than the “boy” stuff. All those dresses and little outfits and shoes!

There was a brief period of time when he said his favorite color was pink, and this also happened to coincide with a phase where he liked to put his tiny feet in my shoes and attempt to walk in them, as kids do. Of course, I told him to knock it off because he could break his neck in those things.

And you know, I tried on my mom’s shoes when I was a kid, too. I distinctly remember a pair of dove-grey suede peep-toe pumps that my mom used to wear. They were very 1970s-does-1940s and had a little bow just above the peep-toe and I wanted to be a pretty grown up lady someday and wear shoes just like that. I used to put my feet inside them and try to walk, but I never got far because my mom always told me to knock it off because I could break my neck in those things (it’s true, we all become our mothers one day).

Other things I used to do: wrap a towel around my head after my shower and pretend that the end of the towel was long, glamorous mermaid hair. Exactly the kind of hair I’d have as a grown up!

Or not.

Remember those little Tinkerbell makeup kits for children, with a little tinted lip balm and peel-off nail polish? Ah, peel-off nail polish. I remember there was a girl in third grade (third grade!) whose mom let her wear frosty pink lipgloss to school, and I begged my mom to let me wear makeup, but she was such a drag, gawd. I think in fifth grade she finally let me wear clear lipgloss and maybe this really pale pink eyeshadow. Dark blush and red lipstick were strictly off-limits, except for Halloween. Just enough to satisfy my desire to act older than my age, but not enough to like, tart me up, I guess.

And in eighth grade I got to wear my first pair of high heels. They were white fake leather pumps from Payless and they were as hideous and smelly and uncomfortable as they sound. If my mom would have let me, I would have been wearing high heels years before that.

So let’s talk about high heels for kids. You might remember living doll (she is adorable) Suri Cruise and her high heels at the tender age of three -- and the resulting Internet outrage. I tend to come from the You do what you want” school of parenting, so aside from maybe some medical reasons not to let your toddler wear heels all the time, my opinion on the matter is: Hey, it’s not my kid.

And now, famous-for-having-a-gazillion-kids Kate Gosselin is getting a ton of crap for Tweeting a picture of her 11-year-old daughter trying on her mom’s rhinestone peep-toe heels. Just like every kid, like, ever, has done. And people are so, so mad at Kate Gosselin for sexualizing her daughter.

Look, I may have a problem with marketing pole dancing classes to kids (especially if the classes offered to adults by the same studio are framed as “sexy fitness”), but I see absolutely nothing inherently sexual about an 11-year-old trying on her mom’s shoes. I mean, would anyone think my son trying on my shoes at four years old was in any way sexual? Of course not. But maybe that’s because he’s a little boy, not a little girl.

And that’s key. We impose all kinds of gendered, adult guidelines for appropriateness on children. Take bathing suits, for example. My son has worn a pair of swim trunks -- and no shirt -- to the beach since he was a baby. This, I think, is the standard for swimwear. Males are generally expected to cover up the bottom half of their bodies. Women, of course, are expected to cover up both the upstairs and downstairs bits, because: boobs. I mean, we can’t all be free, topless spirits like Kate Conway.*

A little side-boob on a woman at the beach is generally not a big deal, right? And if the nips come out, it’s suddenly a sexualized thing. But think about it: both men and women have nipples. Yet we have no problem with male nipples hanging out for all to see.

And this all begins in childhood. My son is “allowed” to show more skin because he will never have breasts (unless he chooses to have them one day). Little girls, on the other hand, even little girls who show no signs of development, are expected to keep their torsos covered. Hey, I don’t make the rules, I’m just throwing commonly accepted societal practices out here for us to chew on.

I would argue that a bikini serves the purpose of covering the un-developed breasts of female children. And if you look around, at Target or wherever, there are so many adorable little two-piece swimsuits for babies, toddlers and little girls.

I see lots of kids in bikinis, and I don’t know about you guys, but I have never once said, "Wow, that is one sexy toddler.” I think this is because I find nothing inherently sexual about the bikini as a clothing item. It’s such a commonly accepted swimwear item that really, I think anyone who wants to wear one can wear one without it seeming overtly sexual.

So I just do not understand why there is all this stuff about how Jessica Simpson is a bad mom for dressing her baby in that crocheted bikini. Because I see non-celebrity babies in bikinis all the freaking time.

And now there’s a new thing that some people are mad about: Elizabeth Hurley’s line of animal-print two-piece swimsuits for kids. Is it the cut of the suits, like there’s not enough fabric? Or is it because they are animal print, and that somehow implies “sex kitten”? Is this line of animal print bikinis the hot pink blush and red lipstick of swimwear, while fuller-cut cartoon-print bikinis are the clear lipgloss and light pink eyeshadow?

Parents and non-parents, care to weigh in? Would you put your child in an animal print bikini or high heels? And was anyone else’s mom a total drag?

* But we all kind of want to be, right? Emily said once that Kate and I are basically the same person. I think it’s the hair.