09 August 2012

body image @ the pool

We met up with some friends at the American pool today, the pool inside the guarded area of the military housing complex; it's not my favorite place to visit, but I went for the sake of the friendships.

As we were prepping to leave, Young One was quite upset because she was unable to locate the top half of a particular swim suit, the one that offers the most coverage without being a one piece, the one we bought in the States. When I suggested that she just wear the other bikini, the one with far less coverage, the one bought in a local Italian store, she absolutely refused. She has worn both all summer, mostly in Italy. After a bit of conversation between us and some pressure from me, including a reminder that she was entirely comfortable in this swim suit and with going topless at the beach and pool in both Caorle and Ischia, she told me that Americans wear different swim suits and when she is with them, she wants to be like them. "I don't want to be different, Mamma." Fair enough.


beach m and m
Topless with Matteo in Ischia 

We reached a solution when she found a suit tucked away for next year that is a bit big now. I let her wear it.

After a couple of hours at the pool, I noticed the young lifeguards on the other side of the pool preoccupied with something near us. I looked around and all seemed well. Kids were well-behaved...adults, too. I could not imagine the source of their concern. Eventually one of the young lifeguards came over to tell the German mother next to us that her toddler must wear a bottom at all times. The baby was maybe 18 months old. The baby was not in the pool. The baby was not running around like a crazed kid. It was break time, and her mother removed her swim diaper for a bit. She must wear a bottom. It's the rule. (Ironically, she didn't require a swim diaper bottom, you know, for the purposes of hygiene. No, just a bottom, even while hanging out on the deck with your Mom and her friends.) What the heck?

pool slide
With Crazy Cousins at Grandma and Paw's Pool

Later, as we were leaving, an Italian friend arrived at the pool with a gang of his visiting in-laws and his two young boys. (Both wore bottoms, by the way.) I just happened to be near a couple of the young lifeguards when one of the well-tanned bikini-clad aunts ( in her late 50's) entered the pool. Those teens snickered and sneered and giggled...obviously bothered by the body of the woman. What the heck?

...................

Young One already feels the different attitudes about body image between the two cultures. Those teens are simply products of our American culture. I just hope with all my heart that my girl is blessed to be able to choose Italian on this one and reject all those Puritan influences that haunt American culture today.

PS. If you think I'm suggesting that I think she should be running topless at the American pool or on a beach with Matteo when she is sixteen, then you have sorely missed the point! And I have no doubt that Italian women deal with body image issues as well. What I experienced today is somehow a separate issue from those. 



18 comments:

  1. this is one of those cultural things that really stuck out to me while living in switzerland, and one of those things that i continue to think about now that we're back. your conversation with M was very telling--my kids were too young when we left to really notice any difference, but already rowan (7) is starting to get a lot more modest than seems necessary, and i can't help but think back to his kindergarten gym class when boys and girls would change into and out of their gym clothes in the classroom, all together. can't imagine that ever in a million years happening here! was at the coast recently with my family and my sister worriedly asked me if she thought it would be okay to let her not-quite-two-year-old daughter go bottomless since she'd forgot a swim diaper. didn't take much to talk her into it. but you can bet we didn't see a single other kid at the beach with a bare booty!

    and swimsuits--did i ever see a european woman wearing one piece? i can't think that i ever did. i wish that i had that confidence. and i wish that my children could grow up without the puritan influences, as you say.

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    1. We've experienced the co-ed nudity with young children as well. The need to cover somehow suggests that bodies are inherently bad or, worst, sexy! M and her friend Matteo have identical chests. Why should she be forced to wear a confining top?

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    2. Yes... one piece suits are the norm for women at the city pools during the year. I don't think I've ever seen a bikini of any type at that pool. The acceptable dress is a serious racer-back one piece, swim cap, bath robe, and indoor only shower shoes or flip flops. It's quite specefic, the "uniform" at the pool.

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    3. interesting. i guess i've never been to an indoor european pool! now am wondering if it's the same in switzerland. likely, i suppose, given their love of order. i only ever went to beaches, or if there was a pool it was outdoors right next to the lake. and definitely there i think the only people wearing a one piece were americans!

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  2. I agree, the Europeans have it right on this one.

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  3. I totally understand you. My boys left their swim suits on the bus one day when we were in Germany. They were no where to be found. So I went to H&M and bought them new ones. The 10 year old would not wear the trunks because he didn't like that they didn't come to his knees. While his little brother loved his minimalistic bathing suit. I hope she can feel Italien too in that sense. Americans are way to body conscience. However, what is with mandatory swim caps at Italien swim pools.

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    1. Well... I don't know. I've heard it's related to hygiene. Hair is dirty? Another friend told me its related to filtering system in pools. Idk. I should note that when M is at the city pool for lessons, she is in a modest, racer-like one piece with a cap.

      I'm not surprised to hear about the reluctance of your older child

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  4. HAH! This is hysterical and right on the money. I mortified myself when I came back to the US and wore my bikini to my friends Country Club pool! Her son actually asked, "Is that your suit? My mom would NEVER wear that." I kept a towel wrapped around me the entire time!

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    1. Did you get invited back??

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  5. I get exactly what you're saying - the bathing suit climate at the beach in Portugal (where we went this summer) compared to that in Seattle felt veeery different. I think the difference is shame. My girls were the only ones wearing a one piece - me too! It wasn't just the clothing that was different, though, it was the ease that the European woman carried themselves. They were comfortable. Wearing a bathing suit didn't seem to be a traumatic event.

    Related to kids - My oldest refuses to wear her 2 piece (that we bought in Amsterdam, that she really wanted) here. She'll wear it for running through the sprinkler with her sister but not "out." Our girls are at the age where they are focused outward, noticing everything. It is not surprising that they should feel this difference now. It is just too bad.

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    1. It is too bad. I think the woman carry themselves that way bc EVERYONE is allowed to do so, expected to do so ... Rather than snickered at for doing so! T
      he thing about the experience with my girl is that I've learned how much society determines that image. I just hope that she grows up knowing that it's okay to wear what SHE wants to wear ... which is not where she is now, obviously. I go one stp further and wear a swim skirt! Boy, is that odd at the beach and water park in Italy!

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  6. I've learned something. I now understand why when we go to the lake (in the US), I'm always the only lady in a bikini.

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    1. Certainly you jest and this topic is not new to you! I do believe you are the only one in a bikini at the lake, though.

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  7. understand completely...my little guy wears one swimsuit to italian swim lessons and another on the beach with americans. he is very aware of the differences between the cultures even if he only hints at it in passing conversation. i love being on the italian beaches and seeing women of all shapes, sizes, pregnant/non, old, young - rockin' their bikinis.

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    1. I'm surprised to hear that even a young boy notices the difference!

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  8. I love these types of stories ;) since I am Dutch, husband American and kids, well, I guess American. We were on the beach in Bali when the older daughter was 9 and flat as a pancake. Most women on the beach were topless. The daughter was wearing a tiny bikini and I suggested she take off the top so she could tan more evenly and feel less restricted as well.

    She studied the women around her for a few moments and then shook her head. "I'm not old enough to go topless," she said.

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    1. The perspective of a young child is always interesting to me, especially on topics (like going topless) that can be controversial with adults. An A

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