By Amy L. Hatch
There is something very disconcerting about seeing a topless 7-year-old girl on a public beach.
While I was on vacation, several days in a row we saw little girls romping on the beach wearing just bikini bottoms or a diaper, and, in one case, completely nude.
Now, I’m no stranger to public beach nudity. I lived in Europe, where frolicking in the sea and sand au naturel is no big whoop — and is, in fact, expected.
But on a large public beach here in the US of A teeming with a wide range of visitors, from families to teenagers to grizzled old surfer dudes, the stark sight of these little girls nearly naked was startling. I consider myself to be a kind of old-fashioned, free-range, give-them-their-juice-undiluted kind of parent, but this one made me waffle on my “free to be you and me” philosophy.
I don’t buy my 7-year-old bikinis, but that has more to do with my laziness. I’d rather cover the kid up (please pass the long-sleeve rash guard!) than spend an extra 10 minutes slathering her in sunscreen. I think little girls in two-piece suits are adorable, and infants kicking at the sand in a diaper are sweet. But a little girl in just an itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny yellow polka dot bikini bottom gave me pause.
I didn’t want to look at these girls, the sight of them made me feel … oogey, for lack of a better word. It was very uncomfortable. The girls themselves seemed completely oblivious to the fact of their nudity, swimming and turning cartwheels exuberantly, as would any child on a beautiful beach on a cloudless summer day.
But the question then arises, at what age do we begin to instill the idea of modesty and privacy when it comes to our bodies (for girls and boys)? It’s a pesky idea, one that is about much more than wearing your robe after a bath (or your top on the beach). It’s about respect for your own body, respect for others, confidence and love for your own physical self…it’s a sticky wicket, indeed.
The girls without their tops were less disturbing than the preschooler who ran around completely nude for one entire afternoon. She rode her little boogie board with abandon, inches from my own four-year-old son.
It made me wince. I’m not even sure why.
I’m not making any judgments here, you all know I firmly believe that parenting is an individual sport, and we can’t ever really understand how or why one mom or dad does what they do they way they do it when it comes to their kids.
But the question of public nudity is about so much more than parenting choices. It’s about society, what’s acceptable, what we tell kids about their bodies, about exposure to forces and people we may not even be aware of.
I know I don’t have any of these answers, except to say that I won’t be letting my kids go nude in public.