For a piece of clothing, the bikini sure elicits strong opinions. Some proponents claim that the bikini is a symbol of power, and others contend that it's just a fashion statement that women are free to make. Detractors, like Jessica Rey in her presentation called The Evolution of the Swimsuit, state that the bikini encourages the objectification of women and actually strips us of our power. With strong opinions on both sides of the issue (and plenty of thoughts from men and the media, to boot), it's hard to hold to a more nuanced perspective than the ones offered by pop and counterculture.
Ultimately, though, the decision about what to wear to the beach is personal to each woman. No amount of opining should ever rob women of their decision-making power. When I shop for a bathing suit this summer, I'm not going to be thinking about the proponents or detractors of the bikini, or even the men who will see me at the local pool. I'm going to be thinking about my two-year-old daughter and the kind of woman and mother I want to be while she's watching me.
So, without further ado, here are the many reasons why my daughter will see me wearing a bikini this summer.
Many mothers remember with sadness the day that their young daughters looked in the mirror and said, "I'm fat." The fact of the matter is that daughters learn how to feel about their own bodies by watching their mothers. This summer, I'll choose to wear a bikini because I love and appreciate my body, even though it has flaws. I want my daughter to see that choice and understand that she doesn't need to feel shame about her body, no matter what.
My stomach turns when I hear people say that the "immodest" bikini is what leads to men objectifying, lusting after and violating women. It's those kinds of statements that place blame on women for simply existing in the world while allowing men off the hook when they are misbehaving. Newsflash: A woman's choice of clothing is never responsible for someone else's thoughts and actions. If a man is objectifying a woman for wearing a bikini, then that is his responsibility alone. My daughter will learn this from me rather than cowering under the crushing weight of accommodating the thoughts of men she doesn't even know.
There's nothing quite like the feel of the hot sun radiating off of bare skin. I like to call it the feeling of being a human. This summer, my choice to wear a bikini will be in large part because I love the way it feels to have the sunshine on my stomach and back. Even though my daughter is many years away from wearing her own bikini, she needs to see that it's OK to enjoy the pleasure of being a human being with bare skin in the sunshine.
Women need to lay claim to the reality that we are actors in the world. We are capable of making decisions for our own well-being and pleasure by weighing our options and choosing the best one. I fear that many women will make a choice about bathing suits (because, honestly, is this really about bathing suits?) by listening to "should" statements rather than their own hearts and minds. My daughter will see me weigh my options and choose the best one for me, which in this case will be a hot little bikini.
The world is full of labels, and there's not a single one that tells the whole story. Unfortunately, fashion statements have a way of conjuring substantial labels and unfair opinions. Is a one-piece bathing suit really deserving of a "good girl" label, and is a bikini really deserving of a label like "bimbo"? Of course not. No matter what I choose to wear, I know who I am and it doesn't matter what other people think about me. My daughter will see that and grow into her own skin knowing that the only opinion that matters is what she knows about herself.
So whether you choose a bikini or a one-piece this summer, do it for yourself, and do it knowing that your daughter is watching you. She will learn who she is as a young woman by observing how you feel about your body and your power.
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