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Should little girls wear bikinis?

“Mummy, can I get a string bikini?”

My 8-year-old daughter's question floors me. Why the hell would my little girl want an itsy-bitsy, off-with-a-tug bikini?

Before I can answer, her second question helps me pick my jaw off the ground. “Actually, Mum, what is a string bikini?” Turns out she had heard an older kid at school talking about getting one. Since whatever kids in the upper grades do is cool, she wanted one, even if she didn’t know what one was.

I bought bikinis for my daughter when she was little - not a string bikini (although they do make baby string bikinis, just ask Jessica Simpson... it caused a huge storm of protest when she flashed pics of her four-month-old daughter in one.) but some pretty skimpy ones, looking back. Two-pieces are easier for nappy changes and impatient little bladders (for this reason, I'm still fine with non-revealing tankinis), and at that time I chose suits based on how practical and cute they were, giving little thought to What It All Meant. I never worried I was dressing her too adult; I mean, there’s not much that does more to de-sexify a bikini than stuff a nappy-bubble bum into one.

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She didn’t care about what I dressed her in then. But now that she’s starting to have an opinion about how much skin she wants to show, I find I have an opinion too - and it’s surprisingly conservative for someone who wears a belly-bearing two-piece myself. Here’s the thing: I don’t want to see that string bean of a body in a little bikini. It feels like we’re at the top of a slippery slope I’m not ready to start descending just yet. What if a bikini is the gateway drug to booty shorts, high heels and push-up bras?

My daughter is an unapologetic tomboy. She shields her eyes when people kiss and tells me yoga pants are special occasion attire. But occasionally I get a reminder that she is on the cusp of tween-hood, probably just a few years away from asking Ouiji boards which boy likes her. I know that’s inevitable and part of growing up, but do I have to hurry the process along? At some point I won’t get a say, so while I still do, I want to use it to tell her that while you may regret growing up too fast, you’ll never second-guess taking it slow. She has the rest of her life to be sexy and flirty. For now, I want her to be 8.

But I didn’t say any of this to her. Instead, I just explained what a string bikini was and why it’s not good for cannonballs, underwater handstands and you know, actual swimming. “Really?” she said. “Oh, forget it then.”

Phew.

PHOTO CREDIT: DINA MARIE/FLICKR/GETTY IMAGES

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