Abercrombie & Fitch’s Padded Bathing Suits For Our Daughters Or Why I Need To Change

Abercrombie & Fitch has a push-up bikini in it’s kid’s line.*

The sizing begins with girls as young as eight years old.

Most adults have been rightly horrified.

Because Abercrombie & Fitch is wrong for creating this bathing suit and marketing strategy. And who are these parents buying tiny padded bathing suits for their eight year olds?

But what I want to know is why does the bathing suit exist at all?

Well, I wear padded bras. And I used these weird boob things in my bathing suits over my honeymoon and those are my FAVORITE pictures of me in a bathing suit.

I’m an adult and get to modify my chest any way I want. Well, any way I want and deem to be acceptable or beautiful in our culture.

But I’m also my daughter’s first and strongest role model for the beauty of womanhood.

Whenever I put on knee high boots, my daughter drags out her snow boots to “match mama.”

Why wouldn’t my daughter grow up interested in a padded bathing suit? It’s a grown-up suit. All kids like to play grown-up.

Now, I would never buy it for her. And I would explain in a gentle way why. But that’s where I get stuck. “Why?”

Because you are (hypothetically) eight years old. But by mama’s age, or even by eighteen, you can wish your breast were bigger. You can accept that bigger breasts are sexy. So hold on just a little big longer, my dear.

I can’t come up with a better reason for why I wear padded bras or suits except that, as adults, we allowed to feel less than. We are encouraged.  So don’t pay attention to that about Mama. Don’t watch while I shave my legs, apply make-up and add a little cleavage.

I understand that there are all sorts of things adults do appropriately that children should not and cannot do, but I wonder what message I send my daughter when she watches me get dressed. I want to teach her that our bodies are to be respected. And I’m proud at how many beauty trends I balk and how comfortable I am in my own skin today. However, when I pick through my closest and bathroom, I am forced to acknowledge how many I struggle to meet and struggle to ignore.

For example, no one in America is striving for saggy breasts and no one can argue that perky breasts are healthier. So why do we wear push-ups or padding? Well, it fits our standards of beauty. I started with padded bras in high school. Oh, I’ve gone through phases where I wear them and phases where I don’t.  I am certainly less concerned with the size of my breasts that I used to be.  But I also think that I would look great as a perky C-cup.  And I’m not sure why.  Am I really so vulnerable to these messages?  Whose messages? The movie industry? The pornography industry? The men I’ve encountered?  Most high-end fashion models are not large-chested, but most available fashion is cut for larger breasts than mine. Why? And more importantly, why do I care?

While I believe that Abercrombie & Fitch should have higher standards for their clothing lines, it’s also an opportunity to rethink what we model in our daily lives. To not only watch our words but to chose our clothing with care. What are we trying to hide? What do we look to show-off?

Or we should be prepared to explain why it’s okay for us to see our bodies as not good enough while we chastise others for implying that our daughters’ bodies are not enough.

*Abercrombie & Fitch have since re-branded the bathing suits as “lightly padded”; however, the suit LOOKS exactly the same, and I felt that the discussion remains important. Article and photo source.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

30 thoughts to “Abercrombie & Fitch’s Padded Bathing Suits For Our Daughters Or Why I Need To Change”

  1. I have been thinking a lot about the padded bathing suits since I first heard about it the other day. My oldest daughter is almost 8 and I would never let her wear them. You do bring up an excellent point about the kids want to model us so we should pay attention to what the kids see us do.

  2. *sigh* so complicated. my first thought is: what are they trying to push up? and why do 8 year olds need the appearance of breasts? that’s the first problem right there.

    the adult less than thing is complicated, but I think that’s somewhat okay as long as we keep the discussion going and don’t just accept all normatives as-is. I didn’t wear a bra AT ALL in high school. damn the man and all that. and my boobs were teeny (they’re still small, but natural weight gain has brought them to a busty B). then in my early twenties, I worked in lingerie and only wore push-ups. I knew how to make my girls look huge. now? I wear lightly padded. it feels comfortable (important), but I feel like it holds my girls how I like them.

    I’m also compelled to mention that I try not to judge women who get their breasts done. but from my years in lingerie, I’ve seen so many bad boob jobs, bad touch ups (because you have to get surgery every ten years or so), and the horrific pain and scars of removal. I’m so scarred from that I could never and I wish all women could see what I have.

    so what’s the answer? I don’t know. maybe just to keep discussing the whys and the why nots.

  3. I’m confused by one thing you say about breasts there.

    “For example, no one in America is striving for saggy breasts and no one can argue that perky breasts are healthier”

    I’m honestly curious – is it true that perky breasts are *healthier*? I wonder if I should be concerned about my sad sacks! I always had a large bosom that then swelled overwhelming when breastfeeding – and then got all saggy and sad. I assumed that was par for the course – but should I be worried about my breast health?

    1. No. I’m saying that there’s NO health-basis for striving for perky breasts. People use health as an argument for weight loss or wanting less ‘muffintop’ but breasts seem purely cultural to me.

  4. Whether or not kids want to play dress up, I feel like a&f should have Bren business savvy enough to take pedophiles into consideration when creating this. I mean hey, she was asking for it by wearing that suit, right? Obviously no one who gets abused is asking for it but since that’s always the argument (and it sometimes, horrifyingly, is a winning argument) why should they have ever made this? How could they have not thought?

    In any event, I worry about the other end of the spectrum too. If I don’t care at all what I look like am I not properly informing my kids? Because we do get judged by how we look and perhaps I’m not adequately preparing them for that.

  5. This might be a classic case of you want what you don’t have but as someone with larger than average boobs, I spent many a day contemplating a breast reduction when I was younger. To me, clothes are all made for flat chested models.

    The disturbing thing about the padded bikinis for eight year olds, besides sending the message to little girls that they are less than, is it also makes them potentially more attractive to creepy strangers on the beach.

  6. i don’t personally find this to be that complicated of an issue. 8 year old have nothing to push up or add padding to. a triangle top padded bikini for someone who isn’t even close to approaching their teenage years is disgusting to me, plain and simple.

    abercrombie and fitch has sexed up their merch in ridiculous ways over the last few years. granted, society standards for sexualization and what qualifies one to be “sexy” has changed as well, so in some ways, they’ve just gone with that movement (a whole entire post in itself)…

    i’m disgusted, just utterly disgusted. and the fact that i can’t walk past that store without gagging on their cologne just adds to it.

  7. Renaming the suit as lightly padded just makes it more icky.

    It’s a very hard thing to accept the responsibility of modeling your behavior for your child, and I think particularly for your girl. I, like you, feel like I’ve done a very good job with most things, but realized not too long ago that I was knee-jerking women who dress provocatively. Now, this is WOMEN, not children or teenage girls. I disliked the idea that I was saying that a woman is inherently less because she wore something sexy. How can I balance being sex positive with being a mom? I don’t have an answer.

  8. This was a recent discussion in my mommies forum. No matter the outrage, stores will continue to sell what they want to sell, unless there is a health risk from the type of material used (and then they will just change the fabric, not the pattern). I wholeheartedly agree that preteens and little girls have no reason to wear triangle bikinis other than to look older and mimic ‘big sis’, and that as long as my daughter is not of legal age she will be wearing a swimsuit that is more befitting her age. Personally, I believe, that like you say, it falls to the role models in a girls life of who she chooses to mimic, and why. It also falls to the parents of these girls to be there in the decision making process when purchasing a swimsuit. By providing them with options that are firstly acceptable to both the parents and daughter (within some stylish reason, of course) and then allowing the daughter to choose from those selections, the daughter still has the final independent choice. I feel like too many parents are blaming and placing responsibility on designers/stores/schools/teachers/you name it outside entity, and not stepping up to be responsible in the first place. Since we are in a free society where moral and social responsibility by large corporations is faltering as a result of greed and the ‘I-will-do-because-I-can-do-and-you-can’t-stop-me’ mentality, the role of the parent is even more important in conveying the sense of morality that you wish to instill in your children.

  9. I really like your discussions about this topic – body image, beauty, and the messages we send and receive. It’s like a tug-of-war: we can say and feel that societal pressure is wrong, yet we often fall into the trap. What is OK in making ourselves feel more confident and “pretty”, what crosses a line?
    But yes, the “lightly padded” or “push-up” version for any child is inappropriate. Shame on you A&F.

  10. I get so mad when I see things like this (child bikini’s with or without the padding) then I remember we live in a broken world and try to tell myself I am raising my child and not the world and not to change my standards. Grrrr. And I have my own issues with Abercrombie aside from that. Like what the heck does a nude dude have to do with selling jeans. The clothes aren’t even on him!

  11. My 13 year old needs a new bathing suit. I found some age appropriate suits at Old Navy and J. Crew kids. The suits were cute, but not too cutesy and she wasn’t interested. Then last night she forwarded the A&F link to the padded bikinis along with the message: “I WANT THESE!!!” [Note, the exclamation marks.]

    Yeah, that is SO not going to happen. It’s not just the padding that kills me here, but the strings. These are triangle top, padded, string bikinis. If ever there was a blatant example of mainstream, corporate sexualization of girls it can be found this spring at A&F’s girls’ swim wear collection.

  12. Ugh. You bring up so many good points here. As does Ms. KLZ. I hate that we, as women especially, are SO judged on our appearance. And further, that it’s a sexualized appearance. I hate that there is SO much focus placed on the sexuality of women, as if that’s all we’re good for. But, as KLZ points out, judgment based on appearance is the reality, like it or not.

    And the overt sexualization of kids? Of girls who are not even having periods yet? That’s just not appropriate. Girls that age do NOT understand what they’re advertising. They do not understand what strings come with that attention. It’s inviting trouble that girls that young are not equipped to deal with.

    Sigh. Whatever happened to subtlety?? Or class? A woman who leaves more to the imagination is far more sexy IMO anyway.

  13. First off, for me it comes down to sex. Padded bathing suits (and other various accoutrements of beauty in our culture) are suitable for adults because adults have sex and because it is, under certain circumstances, appropriate for adults to invite sexual attraction. It is not ok, in my mind, for an EIGHT year old to invite sexual attraction. Ever.

    As for the rest of it, if I ever have a daughter she will see my padded bras, but they won’t be for enhancing the size of me 34Ds but rather to hide my nips on a breezy day or in my workplace’s A/C. Because beauty regimens can go both ways – inviting and deterring sexual attraction in turns. She’ll also see me running in races and lifting weights at the gym and I will teach her that it has less to do with how my body looks, and everything to do with how my body *works* and how important it is to be strong both inside and out.

    But I also know that we won’t escape our culture’s concept of “beauty” without some pretty dramatic lifestyle changes. So yes, I’ll also teach her (when it’s appropriate!) about make-up and leg shaving and finding jeans to suit one’s body shape. And I’ll hope that she’s balanced enough that when it’s time for me to let go, she’ll understand that it’s not ok for *her* eight-year-old to wear a sexy bathing suit. Ever.

  14. Great post today. I’m constantly baffled by fashion. It drives me insane that I can’t find a pair of jeans for a plus-size girl that don’t include bedazzled back pockets or prefab rips in the knees.

    I won’t deny that I wear makeup and try to put myself together in a certain way when I’m going out on the town. It’s true that women think they have to mold themselves to a certain standard, and it’s frustratingly obvious that only a certain sect of women are considered “beautiful.”

    I strive to find beauty in myself on a daily basis.

    Also, if you need a boob loan, I’ve got plenty to share. Plenty. *snort*

  15. I can’t say I am surprised by A&F. I have been appalled by the teeny tiny shorts they have been selling for years. I would feel better if the shorts were part of a swimsuit. My job is located next to a high school and a ton of the students come over when school lets out. In the warm weather months I see girls wearing those shorts. I also see how people gawk at them. There is nothing OK about a teenage girl walking around with her ass cheeks on display in public. I think they bother me more than the bikini.

  16. I find myself in the same boat when I’m putting on makeup (granted, I don’t wear a lot or often). “Mommy, why do you wear makeup?” Um…so I can be pretty? bad answer!! I have 3 girls who I’m trying desperately to not screw up, lol.

  17. A little padding (I’m talking like a thick lining, not anything to add volume) is fine with me, to increase modesty. (Some suits get a bit see-through when wet, or are just too flimsy for a tween girl, IMO.) But I’m pretty sure that’s not what’s going on here. All I can say is, “Wow, that is really disturbing.”

  18. NO,NO,NO…deep breath….NO,NO,NO. Daughter (10) and I had “discussion” about two piece bathing suit. I lost. It was white and was “lost”. She gets slutty little outfits cast off from her slightly older bff. No child needs “lace up the ass crack” jeans or “push up” anything. The eighties produced enough adult-children to last us for quite some time. Promote positive body image without mechanical enhancements!


  19. To me, a push up bathing suit for an 8 year old is particularly inappropriate because 8 year olds (most of them anyway) do not have developed breasts. Its catapulting them into a developmental stage that they are not ready for. Its sexualizing them before their time. I hear you that you don’t want to send the wrong messages about body image, and I’m worried about the same thing. But you are already a sexually mature woman. Making the most of what you’ve got is not the same thing as padding the bra of a young child. To me, anyway. But I agree that its a fine line. Its a tightrope I’m really not looking forward to walking.

  20. Of course, push-up was out of the question when my teengirl was that age. Thank goodness it never came up.

    However, I was the fat 8-year-old who had a need for some “light padding” in any bathing suit I wore, because of prominent, puffy nips. In other words, I could be used for good, instead of the evil those jerks intended.

  21. See and I hate padded bras and suits and get frustrated that I can’t find something w/out them….I have been blessed with super large breasts…and by blessed, I mean cursed and padded is my worst enemy…Nothing on earth will make these babies appear perky…

  22. As the mother of two young boys, I find I have different issues- how do I teach them to respect the girls they meet and accept them with all their faults? Especially since I, too, have body issues. Bottom line for me with the bikinis is that girls that young do not need to be sexualized in that way. Kids are bombarded with sex from a young age. It makes them mature way too young. They don’t get a chance to be children anymore.

  23. This is such a great post. I struggle with that, too. I’m VERY aware that my girls watch me the entire time we get ready in the morning. I refrain from making any comments or judgments while they are there. But I also don’t say anything POSITIVE. I need to work on that.

  24. After I flipped through a catalog the other night, I announced to my husband, “No two piece swimming suits for Iris. Until she’s old. Or older. Or 16?” But at 16 isn’t it about showing off your body and burgeoning sexuality and whatnot as well? Because that’s partly what it’s about at 23 or 33 as well.

    And like you said, there are all sorts of things that adults can do appropriately that children should not do–so teaching my daughter about her body and helping her feel confident in her skin seem to be part and parcel with, of all things, swimming suits.

  25. Girls in France wear bikini bottoms only until they are like ten years old. They almost think it’s indecent to put a bikini top (padded or not) on a girl with no chest.

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