Your 11-year-old is embarrassed to wear a swimsuit. Should you encourage her to don one anyway?
Parent advice from our panel of staff contributors:
Long-sleeve swim T-shirts are in style and in stores. Similarly, wet suit-style pants to the knee are too. Even the stars wear them. Check out People magazine. That should solve the problem if her reluctance stems from an unwillingness to show too much skin. But maybe it’s her way of telling you she doesn’t like swimming, is afraid of the water, etc. – not uncommon at that age. If that’s the issue, an understanding swim instructor can gently introduce her to the pool.
– Ellen Warren
If she can’t find a suit that she feels comfortable in, I would give her an out: “I am worried about you getting a sunburn, honey, so I think you need to wear this oversized T-shirt over your swimsuit.” She could then feel more comfortable, blame her mom if any peers ask about her cover-up and not have to deal with her body-issue sensitivities at the tender age of 11. I would also make sure her self-esteem doesn’t suffer as she grows up.
– Dodie Hofstetter
“This is the time for a discussion but not a power struggle,” says family therapist Arden Greenspan-Goldberg, author of “What Do You Expect? She’s a Teenager! A Hope and Happiness Guide for Moms With Daughters Ages 11-19” (Sourcebooks).
At 11, she may be experiencing her body changing in ways she’s not entirely comfortable with. Exposing a lot of flesh and curves may seem like a perfectly mortifying prospect.
“They’re already hypersensitive about their bodies at that age, and they’re growing up in a culture with so much fat talk,” Greenspan-Goldberg says. “They can very easily become self-conscious and hypercritical of themselves.”
Your job is to gently remind her to love her body and help her choose swim attire that she’s comfortable sporting.
Allow her to wear a T-shirt over her swimsuit or shop for a modest style that covers the parts she wants covered so she doesn’t miss the fun of summer swimming. But make sure you follow up on the matter later.
“Take it as a warning that she’s feeling embarrassed and launch a bigger discussion,” says Greenspan-Goldberg. “Not necessarily at the moment, but later when you see a commercial on TV about losing weight or a magazine cover about changing your body to fit into a swimsuit. Ask her, ‘What do you think that person feels like? What do you think it’s like to want to change your body?’”
This doesn’t force her to talk about her own body image, but it gets her thinking and talking about the topic.
“You’re letting her know that you know there’s an awful lot of pressure to make your body look a certain way,” she says. “You’re planting a seed to talk about how each body is unique and her own special body is part of her, just like her personality and talent and laughter are part of her and she shouldn’t feel like she has to compare her body to anyone else’s.”
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