Anika Warmington, left, and Cory McLean, talk to local reporters as they defend their young daughter, who was told she couldn’t swim topless at a public pool. (Photo: CTV)
A mom and dad in Ontario, Canada, are speaking out in defense of their 8-year-old daughter, who they say was “sexualized” and “shamed” after a local park official forbade her from being topless in a public wading pool.
“I think it’s completely sexist, and the city’s sexualizing little girls,” mom Anika Warmington, of Fergus, told CTV. “If they want children to wear clothing from the neck down, then all children should have to wear it.”
She’s referring to the official pool rules at Exhibition Park, in the city of Guelph, where she and Cory McLean made an unplanned visit over the weekend. When the couple arrived, their daughter, Marlee, took one look at the pool, pulled off her shirt, and ran to the water with her younger brothers. But moments later, she was stopped by a lifeguard, who asked her age and then pointed out the rule stating that any girl over the age of 4 must wear a “bathing top” at the pool.
“She was pretty embarrassed,” dad Cory McLean told CTV. “She’s 8 years old, and she’s been sexualized by a stranger — and, at the same time, shamed into hiding this mysterious sexuality that she’s too young to even understand.”
Kristene Scott, the city’s general manager of parks and recreation, did not immediately return a call from Yahoo Parenting seeking comment. But she told CTV that the rule was put in place “to provide a safe and enjoyable recreational experience” for everyone using the pool.
It was not immediately clear how the town could impose such rules, considering that it’s been legal even for adult women to be topless in public places in Ontario for more than 20 years; that ruling stemmed from a controversy involving a 19-year-old student cited for removing her top on a hot summer day, also in Guelph, ironically. As Scott noted to The Record, “Although it’s legal for anyone to be topless in the public realm, when participating in city recreation programs or using supervised or enclosed recreational facilities, we require them to wear bathing tops.”
In the U.S., plenty of cities, including New York; Boulder, Colo.; and Washington, D.C., have laws that allow women to go topless. Still, other municipalities have trouble dealing with even the sight of a naked toddler: In Spring Lake, N.J., police were called in 2013 after a dad rinsed sand off of his kids, ages 2 and 4, after a day at the beach.
So when did the age when it’s considered inappropriate to go nude or topless drop down to such a young age in our culture? Colorado College psychology professor and department chair Tomi-Ann Roberts, editor of The Sexualization of Girls and Girlhood: Causes, Consequences, and Resistance, isn’t sure, but stories like that of the pool rule in Guelph make her furious.
“It’s absurd,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “As this mom said, asking her 8-year- old daughter to cover her top half sexualizes her. What is the difference between her top half and an 8-year-old boy’s top half? There is none.”
When her two daughters, now grown, were little girls, they wore swim bottoms only, Roberts says. “I’ve just come from Italy, and I was at the Adriatic and saw most young girls (up to maybe around 10 or so) in bottoms only,” she adds. “To cover up a body part is to imply that what’s underneath the covering is private or sexual, or even bad or ‘gross.’”
Roberts says she’s concerned about the impact of objectifying girls’ bodies at such a young age. “To deny 8-year-old girls the unselfconscious joy of being naked — being themselves in the world on a hot day, playing and splashing — is to sexually objectify them and, in a sense, to deny them their personhood,” she says. “Doing so will mean they come to see themselves that way, as nothing but a … body on display for others. That, sadly, will come soon enough, when they enter puberty. Why would we do that to them now?”