We just couldn’t let this bikini onesie news item go by without commenting: Parents of Southaven, Miss., were outraged this week, according to news reports, to find a baby onesie printed with a woman’s curvy midsection covered by a skimpy red polka doted bikini for sale at their Gordman’s department store.
Inappropriate, many parents said. Disgusting, others agreed. Why would you want someone to look at your 18-month-old daughter and think sex object?
Of course others wondered, “What’s the big deal? It’s a cheeky onesie.” (There will be no universal opinion about these matters in parent land, I can assure you that.)
The clothing item in question is part of the Wild Child brand of the Bon Bébé clothing line, which also includes onesies with sayings like “What happens at Grandma’s stays at Grandma’s” and “No dating allowed.”
This, you know if you have children or have ever looked for a baby present, is part of the wide and perilous genre of the “funny onesie,” a mind-boggling array of (often expensive) cotton bodysuits labeled with clever sayings, jokes, references and other innuendos.
(And a tip for the baby gift buyers here: You can go really, really wrong with these sorts of onesies. One person’s funny is another’s inappropriate. And a lot of people don’t have a great sense of humor when it comes to slapping labels on their kids. So that “Daddy and I like boobies” shirt? Give it a pass.)
Now, there are some important issues surrounding the bikini onesie controversy of this week. Sexualization of children’s clothing is a problem, as witnessed by the regular incidents of “OMG, did I just see that?” in parent shopping land.
Think of the French company Jour Apres Lunes’s “loungerie” line for girls 3 months and up, complete with photo spread of little girls in heavy makeup. Or the padded bras for 7-year-old. Or the – I promise I am not making this up - crotchless panties for the elementary school set. (At least one store were these were sold, called Kids N Teen, removed the undergarments after parents complained. Um, yeah.)
The fact that these items even exist – and, according to retailers, often sell well – is a sign of how unmoored we’ve become about kids and sexuality, and what “sexy” means to children. (In large part, it means more purchasing. "Sexy," advertisers have learned, sells well – even to tots too young to understand its adult meaning.)
But also at issue with the bikini onesie is something a bit more mundane, but also important.
What a lot of parents find distasteful about the bikini onesie – and a number of the other “funny” ones out there – is that you’re basically using your kid as the butt of a joke. They don’t know what they’re wearing, or why people are laughing at them. They’re a prop. And to a lot of parents, that just doesn’t seem so kind.
Especially when it involves a bikini.