I spent the weekend shopping for swimsuits for my 17 year old, 6-foot tall, completely gorgeous daughter. The fact that she’s shaped like a beach volleyball player did not help; turns out, no matter your body shape, finding a swimsuit it challenging.
A million years ago, my husband and I worked at a camp where it two-piece suits for girls were prohibited. The entire torso had to be covered. The cut of the legs could not be too high, neither could the neckline be low. In other words, we all ordered the dowdiest suits from Land’s End and called it a day. At least we all had the same requirements.
I get why these rules are in place. I really do. I understand the compulsion to restrict and control adolescent impulse. At a camp where our eyes were to be focused on Jesus, the powers that be wanted to reduce distractions. And to be fair, this was not the place for hyper sexy string bikinis. Impractical for camp counselors surviving on muddy coffee, bunk sleep and the Lord.
The rules also put a distinct and unmistakable mark on the female form: in any instance, that shape is too feminine, too shapely, too alluring. It’s just too too.
When I became the mother of daughters, I allowed them to choose their suits every summer, and I didn’t care what they chose as long as they felt comfortable. And let’s be honest, when they’re still in swim diapers, two pieces make a lot of sense.
There comes a moment when you notice that the boys are noticing. And it is indeed a very strange sensation, to caught a boy as his eyes drift over the hips of a girl who isn’t aware of her own beauty. It’s disconcerting. It’s also the most normal thing in the entire world.
As we shopped this weekend, and I watched her choose a suit that is both comely and not that skimpy, I realized that this kid was making a choice for herself. She wanted to feel comfortable at the pool or beach. She wanted to feel pretty. She wasn’t thinking about how to attract the male gaze as much as she was thinking about how many of her soccer playing bruises would show. Bruises, BTW, she’s very proud of, because she earned them.
Here’s the thing. As a mom, my job isn’t to keep your son from lusting after my daughter. My job is to raise a young woman who believes in her own value, who understands that it doesn’t come from any outward adornment, who stands confidently at the edge of the beach, the pool, the soccer pitch, the classroom and participates to the best of her abilities. (My job as the mother of a son is to teach him that women and girls are valuable because they exist as independent, God-crafted creatures.)
I bought into the modesty thing, and I’m not saying it’s wrong, to be modest. But modesty is more than dress. Modesty comes from a firm foundation of self-respect, just as purity is about more than sex. And to restrict one’s self, to make decisions solely to appease another is smacks of a old-fashioned physical subjugation, where a woman’s body is the total sum of her self. I don’t live in that world, and neither do my daughters.
I want to live in a place where girls can love their bodies without shame, or without being shamed, for being young and beautiful, strong and confident. There is nothing wrong with looking like a woman.