Raising One-Piece Daughters in a Bikini World


Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. ~I Timothy 4:12

My best friend, her sister, my daughter and I were sitting on the beach in Sarasota, Florida, when two men carrying surfboards strolled by.

They were in their late thirties or early forties, seemed respectable, or as respectable as one can appear in a wet suit.

And then—in the midst of eating our picnic lunch—we overheard the blond man commenting to his friend: “I love coming out here and seeing all these underage chicks in bikinis.”

I looked over at my own little girl—two years old, with a fountain ponytail—mixing blue Play-Doh into the sand. She was wearing a one-piece beneath her cover-up and sweater.

And yet I imagined her out there on the beach fourteen years from now.

I imagined some lecherous surfer eyeballing my daughter, and it was everything I could do not to chase after that blond-haired man, jerk the surfboard away from him, and use it to bonk him over the head.

However, where were these girls’ parents?

It was so cold on that beach, I was wearing a light sweater and rain jacket over my cotton dress.

And I could easily see the underage girls that man had been referring to–parading down the packed strip of sand in sparkly bikini tops that looked more like lingerie.

Two weeks after I returned from the beach, the ultrasound revealed that my husband and I are expecting another little girl this September.

Staring at the screen, I thought again about what that surfer had said and the flippant tone in which he’d said it.

You see, I feel the responsibility of raising these daughters of mine to become women who do not feel their value lies merely in physical beauty.

Do not get me wrong. I want my daughters to feel beautiful; I want them to embrace their femininity, but I also do not want some thirty-five-year-old, washed-up surfer to be ogling this beauty that should belong to them and to their future husbands alone.

I cannot tell you how ironic it feels to be typing this.

I attended a strict private school from the time I was in K-5 until twelfth grade, and for the majority of those thirteen years, I rebelled against the dress code.

My skirts came just a little above the knee when the hem was supposed to end in the middle. I wore heels that were three inches instead of the regulatory two.

There was not much I could do with uniform polo shirts, but if I could’ve made them more alluring, I would have.

I knew I wanted to remain a virgin until marriage, but I still rolled my eyes at the analogies regarding purity such as a Snickers bar that was scraped on the bottoms of our sneakers as we girls sat Indian-style on the gym floor.

“Now,” the woman said, “who would want to eat a piece of that?”

I want my daughters to perceive their purity as something far more precious than an unopened Snickers bar.

Purity is not just about virginity.

It is not just about keeping the hem of the skirt to the middle of the knee or wearing a one-piece bathing suit.

Purity is truly about the heart.

A synonym for purity is transparency, and I believe if we are truly pursuing God’s heart, if we are truly willing to reveal our weaknesses, He will be able to direct us—daughters and mothers—in these nebulous areas that we have to wade through in this modern age.

I pray that by the time my daughters are sixteen years old, they will have such a close relationship with God that He will be able to guide their steps and their standards without me having to do it for them.

The challenging part is that, in order for them to have such an intimate relationship with God the secular world does not hold its normal sway, I have to first set the example.

Mothers, sisters, daughters, how do you set the example in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity?

And, yes, the little girl in the bikini is me. 😉

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Jolina Petersheim, bestselling author of The Midwife and The Outcast, and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live on a solar-powered farm in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin with their young daughters. Visit with Jolina at www.jolinapetersheim.com.

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  1. says

    Oh Jolina, what a thought-provoking and relevant post. This is a subject close to my heart. I was the young woman who moved away to college and made mistakes . . . ones that could have burned me badly but for God’s mercy and protection. My novels often explore the consequences of looking for love in the wrong places, and the blessing that comes from turning. One of my characters in A WOMAN OF FORTUNE reveals the pain of these choices when she says: “I settled for the mud pond when I was meant to swim in the ocean.”

    THANK YOU for your decision to guide your girls to the ocean (in a modest swimsuit!)

  2. says

    I loved that line in WOMAN OF FORTUNE, Kellie, and I loved how your character didn’t remain static as her parents lost everything, but allowed the changes in their lives to change her as well. Brava, my friend!

  3. Kristin says

    Daughters come with their own unique set of worries. I’m expecting my first child, a daughter, and as soon as we found out, thoughts flooded my mind about raising her with grace and dignity, modesty and kindness. Thank you for this post. It’s so very relevant and true.

    • says

      That season of expectation (when you don’t know what to expect) is a very scary and beautiful time, Kristin. I remember it well! Best wishes to you and your daughter as you embark on this journey of motherhood. There’s absolutely nothing like it in the world!

  4. Petra says

    Great topic! I grimace at men ogling naive girls as well, but honestly, the part about your post that bothered me the most was the damaging line “who would want to eat a piece of that?!”

    Thank God for his mercy and grace and love for those who have made mistakes. Thank God for healing for the broken. Thank God that He can take girls who have lost their purity and restore everything that is broken.

    I get upset when I read or hear counseling like “no man will ever want you if you ever do anything wrong.”

    Thank God that is not true! God always wants us! And thank God that there are loving Godly men who have the grace and forgiveness through Christ, who do love broken and restored women. (Such as myself. Such as my oldest daughter.)

    Of course, ideally, we want our daughters to never have to face the consequences of such mistakes and we want to protect them from ugly men such as were on the beach! And we need to teach them purity, for sure. But we also need to remember that our daughters are human just like us, and they will make mistakes. And they need to be taught that God’s righteousness is enough. He covers all our sin and makes us pure. Unconditionally. <3

    • Julie Cantrell says

      Petra, I am so glad you said this. I agree 100%. Such a double standard for men vs. women. We are supposed to be held up to perfect standards of purity, etc. while men are given much room to experiment and make mistakes. The candy bar lesson is so disturbing to me, shaming girls into believing they are unworthy of love and that no one will want them if they are not “pure.” So sad. So wrong. So sick. There is a healthy way to teach BOTH boys and girls how to have self-confidence and self-respect and how to navigate HEALTHY relationships without sacrificing themselves to please others. But humans are humans, and kids are kids, and with so many mixed messages in our society today, most are bound to make mistakes. To teach our daughters that they are worthless, soiled, damaged, dirty, or unwanted is so terribly sad to me. I don’t ever want ANY person, male, female, “purely virginal” or vamp to EVER feel “soiled, dirty, unwanted.” No matter what they have done. Here’s to GRACE and love and forgiveness and a world that teaches love. Thank you Petra! Bravo.

    • says

      Amen, Petra. I grimaced at that line as a fifteen-year-old girl, and I grimace even more now that I’m a twenty-seven-year-old mother of two. God’s grace redeems and restores and makes all things new; I’ve seen it happen time and time again. There is a difference between embracing purity and living under condemnation. Praying I figure out how to teach my children to do the former and discard the latter. Thank God this is a journey!

  5. says

    Wow, sobering remark from yon beach-goer! Yuck.

    Kudos to you for wanting to hoping to teach those girls the purposes, values, and reasoning behind the modesty, Jolina. I think that’s where we often fail.

    What they put on display matters because they matter, because they have worth that’s not tied to their skin and how much is or isn’t showing.

    I have no doubt that you’ll do a fine job. Blessings~

  6. says

    Oh Jolina…the challenges of raising girls. The challenge of our own hearts for the girls that we are:) I see God’s reminders on a daily basis of how He see’s me and yet still have to hear them over and over again. Thank you for the faithful seed you are and will deposit in the heart of your girls. Our prayer is they catch the seed as we rebuke the snatching hand of the devourer and as we stand in the grace that we all need. Thank you for your thoughtful words and for the beautiful way in which you articulate them. And by the way, that picture might be the cutest!

    • says

      “Our prayer is they catch the seed as we rebuke the snatching hand of the devourer and as we stand in the grace that we all need.” So eloquent, Denise; I’d love to listen to your heart about raising daughters some day, as you are raising those beautiful girls!

  7. Lisa Wingate says

    “…it was everything I could do not to chase after that blond-haired man, jerk the surfboard away from him, and use it to bonk him over the head.”

    Oh, God love you, Jolina, you are a good mama!

    This is such a tough issue and these days kids are bombarded with messages that sexiness is all that matters. Unfortunately, even well-raised kids who can quote plenty of scripture and really do have a love for God fall prey to it. I think the best we can do for our kids is try to make sure they are not starved for honest, focused attention. It’s also beneficial to discourage dating young. Kids are prone to having been through numerous “mini-marriages” before they are even out of high school these days and it does much damage. They need to understand that sexy or in-a-relationship doesn’t mean “happy and successful.” They also need to know that relationship mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They can go on from there.

    I know i’m soapboxing — many teens over many years. Love them. Growing up is a tall order these days, but every generation says that, too.

    For mothers of daughters, there’s also that age-old theory — at thirteen a girl will either fall in love with a boy or a horse. Get the girl a horse. 😉

    • says

      Don’t I know that, Lisa! I was one of those kids who could quote Scripture like crazy and yet my heart–from about 14-17–was boy crazy and not very pure. Praying that my little girl doesn’t have to go through that same phase, and yet I know that she too will make mistakes, and I will love her through them, just as God loves us through them as well.

      And I love that snippet of advice: at thirteen, Miss A is getting a horse! 😉

  8. Lorraine Fuller says

    My daughter is a competitive dancer. This weekend we will again attend a dance competition. There will be girls as young as five, who are wearing what amounts to a sequined bra and panties, maybe with a little fringe and they will be doing moves that honestly look like they should be dancing on a pole in a club. Some of them will be dancing to suggestive songs, doing suggestive moves. Some of them will win trophies. My daughter is in two dances. She will do a solo, and she is in a trio. Her midriff will be covered. The dances were choreographed by two different teachers. Neither dance will contain suggestive moves. No one will mistake my 14 year old for a stripper, nor the other girls from our studio. We have been blessed to find teachers who share our values. My daughter will win trophies or not based not on her sexuality but on her talent and hard work.
    It is hard for girls now, the peer pressure, the fashions, everywhere they are given the message that they need to be sexy. Only at home and church do they hear the message that they do not. Beautiful inside and out and is much more desirable to the right guy than sexy. My cousin who is the same age as I am and I had a talk late one night. He confided in me that he and his friends separated girls into two categories, date-able, and marriageable. They were only interested in the first category at the age of 17, but had all agreed that as soon as they finished school and were ready they would dump whatever date-able girl they were currently seeing and look for one of the marriageable ones. The first are only for play, the second is for life. He informed me that his friends had put me in the second category and he was glad, because it meant they respected me and would treat me well, even if they would not ask me out. He would not have to protect me from them because I was not a toy to be mistreated and tossed away. Of course, I told him how sexist that was and told him they were all pigs. After all I was 17 too. Over the years though, I have realized that he was not trying to offend me, but to compliment me. I still think it’s a bit sexist, but have come to realize he and his friends were not so unique. I want my daughter to be marriageable. Right now at 14, she only has room in her schedule and heart for dance. It’s her passion and I am glad to support it. (though it can be almost as expensive as a horse!)

  9. says

    Thank you so much for sharing, Lorraine. I was a cheerleader in college, and it was such a wide-opening experience for me my freshman year when we had a rather unique coach. I remember cringing as I performed moves that were quite provocative, especially for a college considered “Christian.” I wish I had more backbone back then and stood up and said I wasn’t going to dance like that. But we live and we learn. I also had no idea I would be a mother of two baby girls one day and would rather die than have them get a hold of videos from that competition. Motherhood changes everything, doesn’t it? Thanks so much for visiting and best wishes on your daughter’s competition!

  10. says

    Oh, Jolina…what a beautiful post. Where do I start? I remember those days and the feeling of helplessness I felt wondering why I couldn’t be any use as a “big sister;” so many times I felt like an annoying prude and figured I was going about it all wrong as I would try to explain the things I had learned and they would come out so silly sounding; so boring and un-fun. Still, I couldn’t hold back from my desperate attempts to protect my little buddy from wasting her love on losers who could care less. Fast forward to now, with little girls of my own, the same hunger to forewarn and prepare is even more developed. At times I feel the old sinking feeling that I am failing: just a boring old party pooper. But then I see heartbroken young ladies who were unwarned and ill-prepared, and I realize my job is to teach them all I can even though I don’t know it all. Even when it may seem to be fruitless, if I have planted a seed, God gives the increase in His own time and way. I guess, in answer to your question, I have learned (through you–through this post!) that as long as I have planted a seed, God can be trusted to bring in the harvest without my fretting or forcing. I am teaching all my kids–boys and girls–to love God and know Him, but sometimes it appears fruitless. But “faithful is He that calleth you WHO ALSO WILL DO IT.” Like when we let our kids “help” us do something (that we are really doing ourselves), God calls us to a job and then He gets it done. So when sweet Miss A and B or whoever she is appear to “not get” all you desperately want them to get, just rest in Abba’s arms and know He’s on it. Love you!!

    • says

      I agree wholeheartedly, Rebekah, that despite our discomfort at sounding like party-poopers we just have to get over it and plant that seed! As an aunt to five nieces I have used my role to reiterate what their parents have been teaching them. Ditto, my nephews. I make sure the boys as well as the girls know what’s on my mind.

    • says

      Aw, sweet Rebekah! So grateful for you now and for the friend and big sister you were to me then. I think, even though sometimes it feels like our words are falling on deaf ears, that they are still being absorbed. Also, our actions speak so much louder than our words, and you are a wonderful example of having your actions and your words completely match up. That “speaks” volumes. You are a terrific mother to your girls and a big sister to the rest of us. Love you too!

  11. Rachel Hauck says

    Jolina wrote: Purity is truly about the heart.

    No more truer words, Julie. And the only way to get that is to be in touch with Jesus.

    I posted on Julie’s post we death with “dress codes” in youth church. We didn’t really have any because our goal was Jesus. We figured if we pointed the kids to Jesus He would talk to them about their dress and conduct.

    Guess what? He did.

    I think our example is NOT to set up rules so much as to live a life pursing Jesus. Our actions, our dress, our being will reflect Him and the younger generation will model us.

    Rachel :)

    • says

      What a wonderful testimony, Rachel; THIS is exactly what I’m praying for with my own daughters. I do not want to be setting the standards for them. I want them to have such a close relationship with God that HE sets the standards for them. Thank you for the encouragement! Xo

  12. says

    YES! Me too! I soooo feel you. I was a rebel growing up. I have pics of me in a string bikini as a baby. I never thought anything of it all until I became the mama of a girl.

    Now I’m anti bikini, belly shirts, and short shorts. (Isn’t it amazing the clothes they market for our little girls?) I’m striving for to raise a strong woman that values her body, is close to God, and knows that her self worth and what makes her beautiful is so much more than what is on the surface. GREAT post.

  13. says

    Yes, it ALL changes once we become mamas of daughters OR sons. So very thankful this is a journey, and that I can learn with them, too. Thank you for visiting us on the porch, Juju. Always an honor to have you here! :)

  14. says

    Love this post. SO insightful to just listen to those men who voiced their true thoughts. I had my own rebellious years…but I truly believe girls whose mamas dress modestly grow up with some kind of innate sense of what “modest” looks like. I know some people are inadvertently, not purposefully immodest (even too-large clothes can gape and show too much!). But I do think this is one area where we’re swimming upstream. Especially if you walk into the juniors’ section at the store. Thank goodness for tank tops and layering so we can keep our girls decent! It’s hard to fight for both purity of heart AND modesty these days, but I think it’s worth the fight.

  15. says

    I completely agree, Heather; it is worth the swim upstream to have daughters who respect themselves and understand that their beauty is not reliant on how much skin is exposed. Thanks for visiting us today!

  16. R Merritt says

    For all the reasons stated above, and many more, my daughter has never worn a swimsuit. I want her to understand that she is always at all times to be modest. ( in the Hebrew, that word means ” long flowing garment”) I want her to save herself and her body for the man she marries. My mom taught me that, I followed it, and I want my daughter to experience the same.

  17. Tina says

    Beautiful piece. I mostly agree, but with a slightly different lens. No matter what a girl wears, she will be ogled by certain members of the opposite sex. It doesn’t matter if she wears a nun’s habit or goes topless. My mother and grandmother taught me that true modesty is in our actions and God expects our manner to convey that we belong to him. A young woman in a tasteful two piece that covers everything up and is acting like a lady is quite different than a girl in a daring teeny bikini trying to get stares. Both will be looked at by people who let their mind’s run rampant, but one will garner more attention than the other. Covering up is fine and certainly the situation can differ (backyard family pool or public beach without parents?), but I teach my daughter that her actions and motives are what matters most.

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