A few years ago I flew to London from San Diego and saw an ad in the airport of a woman swimming underwater in a bikini.
My first thought was Oh my god, why didn’t they Photoshop her erect nipples?
My second thought was, OH MY GOD, I’VE LIVED IN AMERICA FOR TOO LONG.
I didn’t literally mean that. (I love living in the U.S.) But I was more shocked by my new-found prudishness than by the original prudish thought.
I’ve never been a prude.
I have a photo of myself aged 11, wearing bikini bottoms. I have tiny breast buds, but am oblivious to the idea of covering up my breasts — despite being with two girls and a boy around my age, along with my younger brother. Or maybe I would have been more self-conscious in a less personal setting than the one I was in when the photo was taken.
Maybe not. When I was 13, I happily went to a nudist beach. I was with my mum, step-dad, and [clothed] brother. You get the idea.
I daresay certain boundaries in my family might be blurred at times. I also have my fair share of body issues and hang ups, but I’m mostly comfortable in the skin I’m in. One thing’s for certain, I’m not ashamed of my body and never have been. (I admit I came close with dealing with infertility.)
When I breastfeed, I prefer to do so without a cover. Everyone in my family has seen my boobs now, and you know what? I don’t give a shit.
Know what else? They don’t give a shit either.
I have a Bébé au Lait cover — a brilliant design that allows the baby to see your face as you nurse. My in-laws refer to it as a ‘hooter hider’. My mother wryly called it my ‘burkha’. I never use it except for in front of my father-in-law (out of respect to him as he would be very uncomfortable) or in certain public situations where I don’t feel like dealing with potential drama. I don’t ‘whip out my tits’ because I’m not interested in making a political statement when it comes to feeding my baby; rather I’ll nurse discreetly. If a man leers, eh, I am better equipped to deal with that than a frosty uptight remark about covering up.
What I’m about to write isn’t remotely original, but: why is it acceptable to have half-naked Victoria’s Secret models plastered on a billboard but so shocking to see a woman discreetly breastfeed?
How and when did breasts become so sexualised in America?
I saw my two little nieces at the beach the other day. They are 4½ and 2, and wearing little bikinis. At first I thought it was cute, but then I thought, why are little girls wearing bikinis?
My SIL is a fabulous mother. She is a patient, kind, and attentive mom, so this is not a criticism of her at all. But it makes me question our culture. I can’t help but think: Isn’t it weird that American culture thinks tiny girls ought to cover their chests? I asked DH. He responded that maybe it would be weird if little girls didn’t wear bikini tops.
I argued that by putting little girls in bikinis, aren’t we teaching them that girls’ chests are to be covered up at all times, even in toddlerhood? And in so doing, aren’t we inadvertently hypersexualising their breasts years before they’ve even developed?
DH conceded I had a point.
I just want to raise my daughter to be proud of her body, whatever shape it is. How can I do that if the culture sends her the message to hide her chest even while it’s still flat?