On Boys and Bikinis

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A few days ago my eight-year-old son noticed a catalog—Lands End or LL Bean, or something along those lines. It was lying open on the counter, beside the rest of the mail. I saw him notice it, and I saw his face darken with irritation. Then he slapped it closed and shoved it beneath a Highlights magazine.

“Why do girls go around in bikinis?” he groused. “Of all the dumb things to wear.”

This struck me as funny, which provoked him still further.

“It's just like underwear,” he said. “They wouldn't go walking down the street in their underthings, would they? So why go around in bikinis?”

“Girls wear bikinis because boys like them,” I said.

He stopped short and stared at me, incredulous.

“Not boys your age,” I went on. “Teenagers, and grown up men. They think women look pretty in bikinis—but that doesn't mean they think women should wear them in public.”

He was still staring at me, utterly flabbergasted. Finally he found his tongue: “It disturbs me,” he said formally, “that you are telling me that one day I will think girls look pretty in bikinis. That disturbs me. I know what I think, and I don't think that.”

By this point I was laughing out loud. He was so serious, and so affronted.

“It isn't funny,” he said. “Why on earth would I suddenly think girls in bikinis look pretty? They look cold. They look naked. Skin is just skin, and tummy skin isn't any prettier than arm skin. That's what I think. Why would I ever think different?”

His little brother chimed in: “Yeah, why do they do that? We won't ever like that. Why would we ever like that? We won't.”

And then their ten-year-old sister, from her vantage point of greater age and wisdom, enlightened them: “It has to do with hormones. You know, the hormones that are going to make your armpits get hairy.”

My middle child stared at her blankly for a moment, groping for a withering riposte—but his face fell with defeat. He has great respect for science.

I spent the next several minutes assuring him that hormones wouldn't vaporize his brain, that he would still be able to use good judgment, and—at this he began to perk up again—that not all girls wear bikinis.

“I'd rather like a girl who doesn't,” he said. “It just doesn't seem very smart, to like a girl who does silly things just to try to get boys to think she looks pretty.”

Hold that thought, I said silently to him. Hold that thought.

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