Why I let my daughter wear skimpy outfits at gymnastics

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

My seven-year-old daughter is a passionate gymnast. She had been asking me to take her to gymnastics classes for about a year before I relented at the start of last year, and she's taken to it like it is her calling in life.

One of the things my daughter loves most about gymnastics is the fashion. She's into the scrunchies and sequins, and the tiny cropped top and hot pants that almost all the little girls rock in her class.

My daughter now has an array of outfits – all sparkly, all skimpy, all cherished.

I remember being taken aback a little when we first went along to a class and saw all that flesh. It's not exactly what I would choose to dress my daughter in, and she started the year in a leotard and skirt left over from her ballet days.

But it wasn't long before we had invested in a black shiny ensemble that had my daughter loving herself sick and twirling in front of my bedroom mirror for ages.

At a recent carnival I stood next to a mother whose daughter was in the same class, watching as our children tumbled, cartwheeled and balanced together. The decision had been made in that family for the little girl to dress in a pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt – a perfectly valid choice and one that I gave no second thought to at the time.

We're all just doing our thing, right? Then the mother decided to give me her unsolicited take on the fashion of gymnastics.

"Molly* loves the classes," she said to me as we watched from the sidelines together. "But I don't know if we can keep coming here – I just find the way the little girls dress to be so inappropriate."

I had a feeling I knew what she meant, but I asked, just to be sure.

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"Inappropriate, how?" I said.

"You know," she nodded towards our little group, "They're showing so much skin. It's unnecessary for little girls."

I took a moment to digest what this mum was telling me, especially given that her daughter was the only one out there not wearing the two piece spandex "uniform" – which meant that she had to know mine was one of the dozen or so little girls wearing it.

I decided to brush aside the fact she was telling me I was making bad decisions as a parent and explain to her why I allow my little girl to dress "inappropriately".

"I let my daughter wear those outfits simply because she likes them," I told her.

"Aside from the fact that the kids are practising a sport that involves precision bending and stretching of their bodies that is much easier for their teachers (and them) to see in those outfits, I don't see why I should tell my child she's wrong to like what she likes, if she's not hurting anyone," I said.

"We turn up week after week and watch these kids sweat and work hard in a sport they love. If my daughter feels good doing it in a cropped top and a pair of tiny shorts, who am I to tell her she's wrong?"

Molly then called to her mother that she wanted her water bottle, so the woman sniffed and bustled away from me, never to return. What I would also have said, given the opportunity, is that I will never tell my daughter (or my sons for that matter) what they should and shouldn't wear, nor how much of their bodies they should share with the world.

These pint-sized gymnasts want to be what they can see – and what they can see is the gymnasts at national level competing in the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in their own tiny and sparkly outfits.

Who are they hurting by emulating their heroes? And what are we teaching them when we tell them to hide their bodies?

If I don't allow my daughter agency over her body and her clothing now, how can I expect her to learn what she's comfortable in order to make her own decisions later?

Sure, it's our job as parents to guide our children, but it's also important for our children to learn that they can make their own choices, especially when it comes to their own bodies.

There will be plenty of opportunities for them to feel ashamed of their bodies in the years to come, once the marketing machines start making them feel less than in order to sell  them all manner of "stuff" they don't really need.

For now, how about we let them enjoy their sport feeling good about themselves wearing whatever they like?