Babies are innocent — we can all agree on that. But when one mother was asked to put a swim top on her baby daughter while swimming at the YMCA pool, she learned the hard way that the sexualization of young girls starts way too early.
Identified only as Angela in a post by children’s media and culture expert Dr. Rebecca Hains, the mom says that on one of the hottest days of the year, she was told by the staff at her local YMCA pool to put a swim top on her 1-year-old daughter. The smart mom immediately noticed the glaring double standard: “It was fine for the baby boys not to wear a top. So as long as it’s a blue swim suit, then it’s okay?”
Exactly. There are plenty of problems with what this YMCA staffer asked Angela to do, and gender stereotyping is just one of them. There was no way the YMCA staff could have known if this 1-year-old baby was a boy or a girl — except for the cultural implications of her pink swimsuit. And do we need to point out that plenty of mothers choose to not limit their children to “boy” and “girl” clothing? A baby wearing pink is not always a girl, and a baby wearing blue is not always a boy.
But there is so much more wrong here than meets the eye. Besides enforcing gender restrictions on a baby, this YMCA staff member unknowingly fed into a growing problem in our modern parenting world: the sexualization of young girls, occurring at a younger and younger age every year. Now parents don’t just have to worry about their 5-year-old daughter being reprimanded at school for wearing revealing clothing, they have to worry about being told to cover their naked baby girl up at the pool.
And then comes the third problem in this story: The odds are that this baby girl had no idea she was being asked to cover up. But think about the fact that she was probably splashing in the pool with dozens of other kids. This interaction was witnessed by other children who absorbed what happened and then took it home with them. Even if asking a baby girl to wear a swim top is “no big deal” because she is a baby who doesn’t understand, the other kids understand perfectly. The other children watching, especially the young girls, are receiving a message that their natural body is shameful and should be covered. “Body shaming” could not be defined more perfectly.
So what’s a mom to do when taking a baby girl to a pool? Almost anyone, except the YMCA, would agree that baby girls can swim happily without a top, just like baby boys can. Smear on some extra sunscreen to protect her newly exposed skin, and let her wear any swimsuit color she’d like.
For parents, there’s really only one takeaway here: A baby is a baby is a baby. A baby is not yet a “boy” or a “girl” (and may even identify with a different gender later in life). A baby is not a sexual being. The most wonderful thing about a baby is that it just is — a baby is born totally innocent, and we’re the ones who are messing up our kids with ridiculous restrictions and cultural expectations like this.