Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Do children need tans and bikinis?

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Patricia Krentcil is facing a second degree child endangerment charge for allegedly popping her daughter into a tanning booth.
Photo / AP
Patricia Krentcil is facing a second degree child endangerment charge for allegedly popping her daughter into a tanning booth. Photo / AP

Did you ever see a six-year-old girl and think to yourself, 'Man, that little lady could really do with a tan.'?

No, neither.

Patricia Krentcil did, though. Maybe. The New Jersey resident is facing a second degree child endangerment charge for allegedly popping her pale and red haired daughter, Anna, into a tanning booth. (New Jersey state law prohibits anyone under 14 from using tanning salons.)

Anna, who looks like she'd fry to a crisp just looking at a cartoon of the sun, turned up at kindergarden with severe sunburn and complained of related itching. When asked how she'd become burnt, she said, "I go tanning with mummy."

And boy does mummy love a tan. Here she is, expressing her love for the activity, looking like something straight out of that horrible 'Blackface' phenomena from the 1960s.

To be fair, Ms Krentcil does deny the charges. "There's not room [in the booth] ... I would never permit it ... It didn't happen," she said. "She's six-years-old. Yes, she does go tanning with mummy, but not in the booth."

And her lawyer says she's "150 per cent innocent" - which is really, really innocent.

But poor little Anna. Even if her mother didn't put her in the booth, she'll likely have some hefty issues when she grows up. Because a daughter's self-image will always, at least partially, mirror that of her mother.

Ms Krentcil is on bail right now and will be tried on June 4.

To diverge a little, this story reminded me of a recent trend in the US: 'babykinis', or bikinis for babies. For which there are actual dedicated stores, and therefore real life people dressing their gurglers in these things.

Of course, the sexualisation of little girls has been well covered in the media. There are books about the issue, too. Lots of them.

However, I hadn't realised the phenomenon was trickling down to the under-twos. What is actually left? Stilettos for newborns? (Note: that was mean to sound far fetched, but then Google spat up this.)

Anyhow, the problem I have with babikinis isn't that they're 'revealing'. Babies have nothing to cover up. And I have no problem with bikinis themselves, for that matter. I like them - on adults. Right now I'm online shopping for a new one, thanks to this story.

The problem I do have is with their implication, when on children. Where no implication should - or need - be. Because bikinis imply breasts. They just do. That's how they're cut and designed.

Not to mention that some babykini tops are actually padded. PADDED. Talk about racing girls to the alter of 'femininity' - most of the time you can't tell a boy baby from a girl baby, anyway. That's half the fun of babies! They're just squishy dollops of alien cuteness, all of them.

(For those of us who don't have any babies, that is. And not all babies, so don't worry - you can totally tell your one is a girl/boy.)

Perhaps babykinis are supposed to be that amusing mix of cute and funny, like when boy toddlers wear tiny tuxedos. (Admittedly I do find that quite adorable. Scroll down to the gif of the little guy twirling around in his new tux. QUITE GREAT.)

But that's different, because men's suits aren't designed to suggest and highlight the 'sexual areas' of a man, for want of a better term.

Speaking of terms, the language around babykinis puts them in a class of their own, too. Here's one product description I could have done without: "Cheeky, flirty cuts & the most splendid fits, satisfying everyone's appetite for sweetness!!!" (Sic.)

Flirty? Really?

But maybe I'm overreacting, and my research into everything self-image related makes me more protective of the one time in a woman's life she can be free from the pressure to look good in a bikini. Or have a tan. I don't have a daughter; I'm no expert.

Or, maybe, treating girls like women really is as insidious as I think it is - and I should thank my own mother, who once explained patiently to a pleading five-year-old (me) that the skintight hot pants I so desperately wanted; shimmering black synthetic with neon strips down the thighs, were just too "grown up". Which I clearly wasn't.

Have you noticed a lean towards turning girls into little women? Are babykinis not so bad after all? Please contribute your observations, thoughts and opinions below.

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