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When Your Child Becomes Aware of Nudity

The Day My Son Made Me Reconsider Wearing a Bikini

I didn't grow up in a nudist colony or anything, but I did grow up with a healthy comfort with the naked body. We pretty much had an open door policy that had us coming and going from each other's rooms in various states of undress. I don't recall how old I was when that ended, but let's just say that as an adult, I sometimes have to remind myself to knock when I walk into my mom's room now. And my mom, as I do now, would stretch out her "getting ready" time by drying her hair and putting on her makeup while wearing just her pants and bra as my brother and I ran about — hey, it gets hot under those hair dryers and we'd rather not sweat through our shirts before stepping foot outside.

But as the mother of an almost tweenage son, I'm finding myself more aware of our liberal open door policy these days. And I'm not the only one. My son is becoming a virtual puritan before my eyes.

It all started last month as we were walking down the street with his friends. We passed a store where the employees were in the midst of changing a mannequin. I was a few steps ahead of the boys when I overheard some giggling. I simply chuckled and hurried the boys along. A few blocks later, we passed another store where the mannequin's dress featured an Angelina Jolie-esque slit. It was just a few seconds before a few of the boys were cocking their heads to try to look up the slit. When I turned to see what they were doing, I saw my son, standing a few steps back, looking for my reaction out of the corner of his eye, his face the color of a fresh-picked apple, shaking his head. Further along we passed a newsstand, and I'm sure you can guess what happened when they saw the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue on display. In the matter of a five-block stroll across town, I watched my son grow from a boy to an emerging tween with all of the embarrassment that comes with those awkward years.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we are relaxing on the beach on vacation. It's just our family surrounded by palm trees and crashing waves when my son blurts out, "I really like that bathing suit, mom . . . " And before I can accept his compliment he continues, "much more than that bikini-thing you wore yesterday. You should wear this one [piece] more often." I didn't know if I should hang my head in shame, laugh it off, or turn it into a body image discussion. And then it suddenly hit me: his friends' giggles, the bikini, and a scathing comment about Kim Kardashian (he saw that picture of her that "broke the internet" and was slightly appalled when I told him she was a mom) — my son is becoming aware of his own body and how it is different than mine. I'm don't mean in the "boys have penises and girls have vaginas" kind of way, but in the "I think I know what they are for" kind of way.

So this is it. The moment so many parents dread. We're approaching the need for the birds and the bees talk. I'm oddly comforted by the fact that it has come about naturally. I had been nervous that we would have to bring it up on our own, and it would be a shock to him. But this just feels like the right time. It also feels natural for me to be closing my door when I get dressed now and telling him that his questions can wait until I get out of the shower, rather than him barging in. But as for the bikinis — those aren't going anywhere anytime soon. I just found the perfect one and I'm going to wear it — proudly!

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