Friday night saw Brandon and I perusing the little girls section at a popular clothing store to buy a birthday gift for Techgirl’s six-year-old, Josie. Amidst the racks of past-colored Easter dresses, flowery denim overalls and Dora the Explorer, I was surprised to see rack upon rack of bikinis for little girls, some young enough to be in diapers.
Why would they make bikinis for girls who don’t have breasts?
Because really, isn’t that the supreme purpose of a bikini top? To cover the breasts (some bikinis more so than others, albeit)? So, why make one for a one-year-old?
In 1959, Joyce Ballantyne Brand created what has now become one of America’s most memorable ads for Coppertone, in which a black dog playfully pulls down the bathing trunks of a little girl in pigtails. Based on her daughter, Cheri, Brand’s blond-haired girl is bare-chested.
Juxtapose this to the recent Dolce & Gabbana ad, which has drawn the attention of Spanish authorities who are debating whether it depicts a child in an improperly sexual manner. The ad, shows two little girls around 6-7 years of age, both wearing make-up. One wears a bikini top and stands with her hip cocked alluringly and her arm around the other.
When women lacked political, economic and sexual equality, showing a girl bare-chested was perfectly innocent. Now that women have gained a (seemingly) equitable foothold across as aspects of society, we cover her up and pose her seductively.
The most eroticized anatomy on a woman’s body is the breast. As Joan Jacobs Brumberg comments in her book, The Body Project, “When we dress little girls in brassieres or bikinis, we imply adult behaviours and, unwittingly, we mark them as sexual objects.”
I understand that child abuse is more prevalent and widespread in today’s digital age, and many parents think a bikini top to be modest. I’m not saying that we should let our daughters streak naked on beaches, either.
But children are not women, and making revealing women’s bathing suits in miniature sizes only serves to identify children as smaller versions of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. And we wonder why girls display an assiduous focus on their bodies at such a young age?