Written by Emily
“Mommy, why are there commercials for bras?”
We were standing waist-deep in the calm South Carolina ocean. No one was wearing a bra.
To our left were several bikini clad women in their early twenties, but they weren’t garish in their bikini wearing even the obvious patriot in her stringed American flag number. They weren’t snapping selfies on the shore as the water lapped against them. They weren’t the languid waifs with lurid come-hither eyes that pose in advertisements and commercials.
I couldn’t make a connection to Chloe’s question. But then, my girl is the queen of non sequiturs.
“Well, Chlo, women wear bras, and companies who make bras want to sell them to women. Commercials try to sell things.”
Wading in the briney not-so deep with my 5-year old wasn’t the time for lectures on the objectification or over-sexualization of women or the nature of commercialism.
I kept it simple.
“But…” she paused and twisted her face, “but bras cover private parts and private parts are gross…” She went under the water for a second and came back up to emphasize: “and PRI-VATE.”
Gross? Crap. Where had I gone wrong?
Noah and Chloe stopped bathing together when they became acutely aware of their different parts, differences we discussed with as much detail as I thought necessary for kids who said “buh-gina”.
I wondered what made Chloe choose that word.
“Breasts aren’t gross, Chloe.” Maybe she heard me say that my breasts, now swollen and several sizes larger from pregnancy, were unruly. Maybe she overheard her two-year old sister announce, “Mommy! Your boobs are so long!” as I wiggled into my bathing suit.
Suddenly, I needed Chloe to hear that nothing about her body was gross. Nothing. True to form, I considered that my daughter’s entire sense of self rested on the direction of this conversation, the one happening in 15-second intervals as she came up for air and adjusted her goggles.
I was certain it would be this moment that she replayed over and over again when she looked in the mirror ten years from now, my words that tumbled out of her mouth when she described her body.
“Private parts aren’t gross. They’re part of our bodies. They’re just not parts we share with others,” I told her as she blew water drops away from her mouth.
Thank goodness she’s too young to see the hypocrisy staring at her, growing thicker by the minute from doing the very thing I said we don’t do with our private parts: share with others.
She wrinkled her nose.
I grabbed her hand. “I mean it. There is no part of your body that’s gross. At all.”
She let go of my hand and went under again, practicing the underwater swimming she only just perfected this summer.
She splashed and came up for air. “Did you see me, Mommy? Did you see that?”
“Yes!” I gave her a high-five.
She went under again.
While she circled me like the mermaid she was pretending to be, I remembered that Chloe refused to wear her two-piece this summer. She chose her tankini or her one-piece, always. She was adamant.
My mind raced.
I was thirteen when I wore my first two-piece, and I only wore it because my aunts insisted. They wanted me to embrace the body I had and appreciate what they truly believed was beautiful. The suit had a sports-bra top and full-coverage bottoms, and while my body was not fully exposed, my insecurities were. I kept wearing it because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I never felt completely comfortable in the suit–or any suit, ever– but eventually it stopped consuming me.
Watching my girl splash in the water, I didn’t want her to have body hang-ups.
I never engaged in the debate over whether or not little girls should be allowed to wear two-piece suits. My girls do. Well, they did. I thought if I don’t overthink it, then neither will they (and as an added bonus, trips to the bathroom and diaper changes are so much easier).
Had I been wrong all this time?
Was my five-year old overthinking already?
I’ll never love bathing suits, but I’ve come to appreciate my body. It’s not gross…any of it, the private parts or not-so private ones. With my five-year old circling my legs contorting her face at the thought of body parts, it felt more important than ever that my verbal and non-verbal language made that perfectly clear.
Chloe came up for air and dove under again.
I needed a plan. We needed to talk when her attention wasn’t sporadic at best…but ten years would be too long to wait. So maybe minus the water.
Later, more prepared and armed with an arsenal of positivity, I asked Chloe: “Hey, why won’t you wear that blue and green bathing suit anymore. The one with the top and bottom?”
I braced myself.
“My butt hangs out,” she shrugged and then raced to find her brother and sister.
She was only wearing underwear.