With warmer weather and Spring Breaking, it seems that many of you are thinking about (and stressed about) your daughters' bathing suits. We get dozens of questions on this topic every year, and the range of questions is as varied as the range of very strong opinions about what is and isn’t ok for girls to wear.
Some of the questions we’ve received recently sum up the recurring themes in the great bathing suit quandaries. I’ve provided some simple, body-positive suggestions that may help (or may not — this is definitely a highly complex and nuanced topic). Let us know how you're handling these challenges in your home!
She’s hiding her body
“My daughter only wears baggy clothes and insists on a full-cover, black one-piece. Her figure is so cute. How can I help her feel more comfortable with it?”
If she likes baggy clothes and wants a full-coverage bathing suit – great. There’s no need to push her into something more form fitting. It’s particularly common for some girls to want to stay covered when they become aware of their morphing body and aren’t quite ready to show others what’s been going on under those giant T-shirts. It doesn’t necessarily mean she has a body image problem, it may just be a time of adjustment.
You don’t need to know the reason, just start looking for those black one-piece suits. If you have the means, give her a few options and let her choose one she likes best. Remember that you can’t talk her into loving her body, but you can influence her body acceptance by modeling your own and staying focused on the awesome things her body does instead of how it looks. Also – one last suggestion: telling her that her body is cute won’t help, and can actually hurt by perpetuating our societal knee-jerk that focuses on looks instead of other more important traits.
Her suit is too small
“My daughter put on last year’s bathing suit, and yikes. We need something bigger! How do I tell her without making her self-conscious?”
When our kids grow, it’s normally seen as an exciting event and sign of health, but when girls' bodies grow in new places during adolescence, why does everyone act so surprised? If you’re worried about telling her, don’t be. She already knows she’s growing. But the way you talk with her about it can change everything. If you can avoid this scenario before she even tries on last year’s suit, do it. Suggest a shopping trip (or order) anticipating that normal growth means a new swimsuit. If she’s standing in front of you spilling out of last year’s suit, stay calm, matter of fact, and leave the ball in her court, “Looks like it could be time for a new suit. What style do you think you want this year?”
A girl in a woman’s body
“This year, My 12 year old’s body would definitely fit in a women’s size suit, but she still loves to run around and play. Where do we shop for something comfortable and appropriate?”
Thankfully, this solution is more practical and less emotional. Even though she might be perfectly proportioned for the teen suits, skip the teen department and go straight to the women’s department or sporting good stores where there’s a larger variety of options, including tankinis, one-pieces, and even boy-shorts, board shorts, and rash guard tops that also double as great sun-protection. If you’ll be shopping virtually there are some great options at some of the traditional catalog stores like LL Bean and Land's End. If she still loves to run around and play, she deserves a suit that lets her do that without wedgies or nip slips!
I’m worried she’ll be teased
“My 13 year old daughter is asking for a bikini, but she really doesn’t have the body for it. I want to encourage her body acceptance, but I’m worried that at her age, she will be teased or bullied. What should I do?
This is where parenting tween and teen girls can become excruciatingly challenging. Is our “protection” nothing more than body shaming and judgment?
My first instinct is to say that the most beautiful bikini body is a happy and confident body – and I believe that with all my heart. But I think we owe our daughters more than “you’re beautiful.”
At 13, girls are very capable of understanding that as parents, we can feel conflicted about what we want and don’t want for our children. They are also capable of reflecting on choices they make.
So tell her what you love (her confidence, her style). Tell her what worries you (some people judge others for stupid reasons; some people may sexualize her body and make her feel uncomfortable; she may feel restricted and less free to move around without tugging on her suit). Then get curious without expressing judgment or emotion. Why does she want a bikini? Is there another style she might like to have as well?
Obviously there’s a delicate balance between helping your daughter feel empowered and helping prepare her for the reality that people can be jerks. You’ve probably said “life’s not fair” before, and this is one more example and a conversation that you’ll need to have again and again as she grows.
Just make sure she knows that you are her biggest fan no matter what she decides to wear – and if that’s a bikini, then good for her! She is already winning in the body confidence arena.
This is a kind and very wise community, so if you are having other dilemmas like these, feel free to ask for help in the comments section. We’re here to help each other as we all parent through puberty!
If you want to keep it in a more private space, our members have access to our private online forum where you can ask anything and get responses from our physicians, mental health experts, and other caring adults. Maybe it’s a great time to join!
Did you know Girlology has grade-by-grade video on demand playlists to support her and you through all things puberty and adolescence. Our doctor-moms cover topics like this and lots others! Learn More about joining HERE.