Living in a patriarchy means that society has way too much to say about women’s bodies — what they can wear, what they should look like, and what they do with them. It’s exactly what has gotten us to the point of sexist and unfair dress codes, mom-shaming, and even the loss of bodily autonomy at the federal level.
One of the most shocking things, though, is just how early this societal control of women’s bodies starts.
Katie Sturino, founder of a beauty company Megababe, is a pretty outspoken feminist. And she couldn’t help but speak up when her friend told her a story about bringing her two-year-old toddler to the pool — and getting called out when her kid was without her top for a few moments.
“I was just catching up with my friend and she said her two-year-old daughter was at swim lessons yesterday and all the little boys around her were shirtless, baby boys were shirtless in diapers,” Sturino began in her Instagram Reel. “And she was in a swimsuit bottom and didn’t have her rash guard on yet.”
The summer day and the swim lessons were interrupted, though, twice.
“The lifeguard came over — two different lifeguard came over at two different times — and said m’am you need to put a shirt on your daughter,” she said. “There’s no nudity allowed at the pool.”
Her reaction is spot-on.
“And that made my f*cking head pop up,” she exclaimed. “Because I was like this is it. This is when they start policing our bodies. They start to say, you’ve got to cover up, there’s something wrong with you. This is not appropriate. Your body is not appropriate. You’re two years old. You’re a two-year-old little baby. And these rules are put on women from the start.”
Her caption read, “Different rules for boys and girls bodies start young and are reinforced constantly along the way.”
Down in the comments, people were outraged with the incident.
“Sexualizing a 2 year old is what that sounds like,” one person wrote.
“This is ridiculous! I’m sixty years old and when I was a kid, little girls often only wore bottoms. Someone go find a Coppertone ad from the 70s. People are out of their damn minds these days,” another added.
One person pointed out that this type of incident hurts boys and men, too.
“This is also how we begin to train boys a) there is something wrong/strange/unfamiliar with female bodies b) that they shouldn’t know about them because they’re different, mysterious, unknowable c) that the boys are not individually responsible for themselves but instead that it is girls/others who should police their environments to ‘protect’ them from seeing and therefore d) that they don’t have responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. This is HORRIBLE for the BOYS and MEN in our society, too.”
Many people pointed out that this was a cultural problem that exists in America, specifically.
“This is an America problem. Anywhere else kids would run around free and naked and it would not be sexualized,” one person said.
Even a pediatrician chimed in, with an important point:
“What. As a pediatrician and expert in the bodies of children, there is no biological difference between a toddler girls chest and a toddler boys chest. That is absolutely insane,” she wrote.
Sturino also posted a follow-up video where she responds to a common complaint about her video — that putting clothes on the little girl wouldn’t have been hard to do.
“People are like, ‘What’s the big deal, like just put the top on.’ And yeah yeah yeah, I hear you but these little moments are opportunities to talk about the why,” she said. “Why are things like this?”
“We can’t expect the people around you to control themselves, women, so you be responsible,” she said. “You cover up. You put yourself under a tarp when you’re breastfeeding. You wear a longer skirt. It’s your responsibility.”
Treating men and women differently is problematic — and sexualizing a toddler who is just trying to have a summer day at the pool is even worse. And Sturino is right. We have to keep speaking up about these little everyday inequalities so that everyone — adults and kids alike — are aware of this toxic issue. It’s only then that we can start to change our culture.