A revised set of rules for the outdoor pool at Old Memorial Park drafted by Library and Recreation Services Director Lynne Young and Recreation Manager Allison Watkins is included in their staff report for this week’s PRAB meeting.
See the 2010 pool rules document and compare it to the 2012 pool rules draft.
One of the issues that came to light last year is the apparel policy. From the Sept. 15, 2011 PRAB meeting minutes:
Resident Anne Sabo approached the PRAB with the concern that she was unfairly approached by pool staff and asked that she dress her daughter in appropriate swimwear. She felt that this was unfair sexualization of girls. The PRAB addressed Ms. Sabo and stated that the swim apparel policy was for public safety for all those at the pool. The PRAB informed Ms. Sabo that they are aware of her concerns but feels that the PRAB is not the place to change the rules of the pool that will be handled with staff involved with the Pool.
I’ve invited Anne to comment here.
These revisions to the pool rules were prompted by the complaint I filed last summer when I was told to put a top on my then three-year-old daughter. In fact, there is no upper age limit for children to be at the pool without a top, neither in the current pool rules nor in the revised rules, and nor should there be one. Because simply this does not fall within the jurisdiction of the pool staff. It falls upon parents to ensure their young children are dressed in swimwear that does not prevent the sanitariness and proper functioning of the pool water. Swimwear the children are comfortable and safe wearing, just as we want our children to be comfortable and safe in whatever other clothes they may be wearing when they are not at the pool.
Overall, the revised pool rules offer no improvement to the current rules. On the contrary, they complicate the interpretation of “proper” swimwear calling it “acceptable” (to whom?!) swimwear. It is now also stipulated that school-aged children and up need to change in locker rooms where it is now also further stipulated — should pool patrons think differently (?!) — that no cameras are allowed. The age limit for children to attend unsupervised has been raised from 8 to 9 years old.
The current pool rules states that all pool patrons must wear “proper swimwear;” “proper” here referring to the sanitariness and proper functioning of the pool water (swim diapers required for children not potty trained; no street wear like “cut-offs” whose fibers can clog pool filters; no spitting or blowing nose in the pool water; no infectious disease), and the physical safety of properly behaving pool patrons (no running, pushing, or alcohol; diving only in designated areas; and diving board and climbing walls only allowed for “good swimmers”).
I have no problem with this use and definition of “proper swimwear;” the problem is when “proper” is interpreted in terms of prudery and moral values, as it was done when I was asked last summer to put a top on my three-year-old daughter. In this case, pool staff was not concerned with the sanitariness or proper functioning of the pool water; they were concerned with her “improper appearance,” possibly luring the attention of a pedophile. This was hammered on me at the PRAB meeting last September where board member David Hvistendahl in particular insisted “I have no idea about the perverts that are out there.” Apparently oblivious to the fact that in 90% of all instances of child sexual abuse, the abuser is a close family member of the child, or a trusted adult — meaning we should worry more about what happens within the hidden corners of the home than at the public pool — Hvistendahl repeated his alarmist claims to Northfield News last fall, stating “Children should be able to enjoy the pool without being the object of a pedophile.”
Yes, we need to be concerned with child abuse and pedophiles, but as I wrote shortly after this meeting, it is Hvistendahl’s stranger-danger message that puts children at risk. Child sex abusers are fathers, mothers, stepparents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, neighbors, babysitters, spiritual leaders, and coaches. A top-free girl does not make or break a pedophile. And boys are victims of sexual abuse too.
I am concerned with the safety and well-being of all those at the pool; the pool rules as they currently are, if properly observed by pool staff and pool patrons alike, would ensure this. Requiring a three-year-old to put a top on does not ensure her safety and well being; it shames and sexualizes her placing “sex” where there is none.
Replacing “proper swimwear” with “acceptable swimwear” at first glance removes the prudish connotations of “proper,” but then again “acceptable” to whom?! When I approached pool manager Allison Watkins and PRAB with my complaint last summer and fall, they used “proper” and “appropriate” interchangeably (see Griff’s above quotation from the minutes). In the revised pool rules, this particular issue can be solved by simply removing the word “acceptable” from the proposed pool rules, which read as follows (as they pertain to “Attire” specifically):
1. All patrons within the pool area must be attired in swimming apparel.
2. Pool users must wear swimming suits or swimming trunks upon entry into the pool. Clothing such as cutoffs, gym shorts, or undergarments are not permitted as swimwear.
3. Acceptable swim attire must be worn by patrons on the deck and in the water. Patrons with religious concerns regarding modesty may wear clean, covering garments that do not interfere with their safety in the water.
4. A patron wearing a t-shirt in the pool may only utilize sections of the pool where the water depth is below his or her armpits.
Essentially pool attire rule #1 and #2 state what #3 states, but without the loaded “acceptable” and without the permission for patrons with religious concerns to cover up more. I recommend the first part of #3 be removed, leaving the second part in tact (by the way though, should only “patrons with religious concerns regarding modesty” be allowed to “wear clean, covering garments that do not interfere with their safety in the water”? How about those who struggle with obesity or other body issues and complexes? The list could go on.)
This entire situation was caused by pool staff members’ moral definition of what constitutes as “proper swimwear” for a three-year-old girl. Responding to my complaint, pool manager Allison Watkins presented her own idiosyncratic opinion about what “appropriate” swimwear for young girls is and at what age they must wear a top. With the current pool rules, the risk remains that the pool staff and manager will continue to interpret “proper” in a moral, prudish sense. If the unnecessary term “acceptable” (again, to whom?!) swimwear remains in the proposed rules, pool patrons will be at an even greater risk to be discriminated against by pool staff.
The current pool rules are in fact fine as they are: the problem is the way they have been interpreted and implemented. What we need to focus our efforts on is that the pool staff and manager properly understand the proper meaning of “proper swimwear.”
I was emailed the revised pool rules yesterday, Tuesday as a gesture to be kept “in the loop.” They will be given to PRAB tomorrow, Thursday at PRAB’s monthly meeting as part of Lynne Young’s and Allison Watkins’ report. The pool rules issue is not even given a specific agenda/discussion item. Please, if you agree that a stipulated age limit for girls to cover up in order to appear “acceptable” or “proper” negatively sexualizes, body shames, and discriminates against young girls, add your voice in the below comment section.
The pool rule revisions assume that everyone agrees with what is “acceptable” swimwear, as it currently assumes that we all agree on what is “proper”. The reality is that we don’t – at least I know that I don’t. I think it is perfectly acceptable for a three year old girl to go topless at a pool, just as it is for a 5 year old girl, although unfortunately at that age she likely would have accepted society’s sexualized role and choose not to. As I see it, this rule has absolutely nothing to do with the sanitation and proper functioning of the pool, or safety as there is nothing inherently unclean, dangerous, or inappropriate about girls going without tops. After all, boys do it pretty regularly and the pool continues to function much like a pool is supposed to.
The issue, it seems, is that some people feel uncomfortable and are attempting to address that discomfort by taking the stance that little girls going topless is unsafe, improper, or unacceptable. The argument for “proper” or “acceptable” swimwear has actually been framed to look like it’s a protective measure for girls as it was suggested that they should wear tops so that they don’t attract the attention of pedophiles. I find this argument hugely offensive as it seems dangerously akin to blaming survivors of assault for their attire.
Shame and sexualization of the body are so easy to come by in this world, and it saddens me to think that we’re actively making rules that reinforce these elements in our young children. As a mom of 2 young boys, I’m delighted in their (and their friends’) lack of concern regarding the clothing, or lack thereof, of their playmates at the pool, and I relish their freedom to be indiscriminately non- discriminating. …Even if it’s only for a little while.
Ok… here’s a comment from a 76 year old person: I completely agree with the above comments of the two young parents .
What are the people who wrote these pool rules thinking of?
A young female child may not show her breastless chest for fear of attracting improper observation by a what? by who? the censoring should not be on the child but on anyone who exhibits any improper behavior toward that child.
On the other hand, there are teenagers there, and some who are very well endowed as far as breasts, and also ‘butts’, who are in minute bikinis, and thank God they feel appropriately comfortable in their young and growing bodies to appear there so attired. Their lack of societally induced ‘shame’ is good, not bad.
And as far as cutoffs… what if a boy doesn’t have the $$ for the currently fashionable long surfer ‘shorts’ (a dichotomy at best) that are currently fashionable with that age group? Does anyone actually believe that a stray thread or two off any garment is going to clog the drains more than the grass, with which our pool is so beautifully surrounded?
Re: the T-shirt issue… “where the water is only up to their armpits” from rule #4. You have to be kidding; this must be for humor, right?
Can it be that armpit sweat deposited in a t-shirt, and then leached out by the pool water is somehow more deleterious than the all over body effluvium that is produced in the heat of a
80-90 degree day?
Please… may I enter a plea, a scream , for reason?
Go Anne! I couldn’t agree more. I would also add, contra David H., that it is surely up to us, as parents of young children, to make decisions about what (minimal) risks we are exposing our children to. But that’s by the way since, as Anne points out, David’s point borders on hysteria anyway.
It’s about time that some authorities in Northfield listened better to Dr. Sabo. The notion that “the swim apparel policy was for public safety for all those at the pool” is, regrettably, absurd in the matter of what girls wear or don’t wear. There is no public safety involved, because there is no evidence in decades of research that girls are in any more danger because of what they wear or don’t at a public pool.
Northfield should stop demonizing and sexualizing young girls, stop this unjustifiable discrimination against them, stop imposing paternalistic, moralistic nonsense on others, and start heeding Dr. Sabo’s advice. She’s not just the girl in question’s mother but an expert in this whole area.
Teaching young girls that their bodies are shameful – not to be displayed or even spoken about does far more damage than good. When children learn to be ashamed of certain body parts, they are less likely to speak up when they suspect they are being treated in an inappropriate way. They are not given the control and ownership over every part of their body, and as a result become emotionally detached from those parts. It is from this state that pedophiles can wield the greatest control. Further, it is the very act of covering a young girls undeveloped breasts which sexualizes them.
Putting a young girl or a toddler in a bikini is in my opinion, a far more egregious assault on the body sovereignty in which I hope we may instill in all young people.
This is outright sexual discrimination, and serves to send a powerfully dangerous message to the young girls and women of Northfield.
As a long time LWV observer of the City Council, and a firm believer in the value of citizen Boards and Commissions, this issue has just brought to mind an added value of those Boards and Commissions.
In the overemphasized climate of the burdens of liability that exists at City hall, the temptation is to push Staff to truly ridiculous levels of what is supposed to be all inclusive “professional” behavior, and it is rare that common sense will prevail… the supposition being that it is not”professional” expertise.
Well.. here is where our citizen Boards and Commissions, if they will accept the charge, can combat meaningless supposed “professionalism”…
to the PRAB: Listen to the comments of the above persons/citizens; use your common sense, stick to your guns and do what citizen boards are supposed to do: Give rock solid advice from the citizens perspective.
P.S. do you know who is at the very top of the City’s organizational Chart? above the Administration? and above the City Council? Big rectangular box with the word CITIZENS !
As a former resident of Northfield, I’d like to join the chorus here. In my current town in Massachusetts, these are the regulations:
• Proper swim attire must be worn (no shorts or cut-offs)
• Infants must wear rubber pants over any type of diaper. Swim Diapers alone are not acceptable. All infants/toddlers must wear a bathing suit.
Proper swim attire is defined (no shorts or cut-offs) and the decision as to what sort of bathing suit is left to the parents to decide, as long as one is worn. Although even here I question the first part (certainly long hair clogs up drains faster than stray thread or grass (nod to Kiffi here :-)), at least there is no vague use of acceptable or proper.
I completely agree with Dr. Sabo, and the others, that to make a three-year-old wear a top is ridiculous. I do not argue that there are no perversions in the world, only that a three-year-old wearing or not wearing a bikini top is not the deciding factor.
I won’t even get in to the t-shirt rule. What IS the reasoning there?
Anne makes so many good points in her post. More rules do not always make things better. We all just want to be able to enjoy the pool this summer. Everyone has a right to wear what is most comfortable–little girls, people of modest religion, and people who, for any reason, feel better in a shirt–as long as it does not interfere with safety, of course.
A swim top does not make a little girl safer; it just makes her more self conscious.
There are so many things being said that I will really try to refrain myself here.
1. A three year old does not feel any shame in having to wear a t-shirt…unless her parent makes here feel that way. Nor does wearing a t-shirt make that child self-conscious.
2. It is not prude to believe that there is an “appropriateness” to asking people (of all ages) to cover certain parts of their bodies.
3. Of course the child is not at fault for filling the thoughts of a pedophile, but why in the world would you want to feed into that kind of evil? You are making your child a target if someone with that sickness was around. Not to mention the massive amount of sexual curiosity among adolescents.
4. Sexual discrimination? A powerfully dangerous message? Seriously?
Just to double check – since any negative reaction to nudity is prudish, since everyone else is responsible for their reaction to me and I don’t contribute at all to your sexual thoughts and lusts, and since I don’t wanted to be discriminated against or sexualized or to feel any shame about my body, considering all that – no one here will have a problem seeing me walk around the pool bottomless next summer…right?
I completely agree with Anne and the other posters. The concern of the PRAB should be limited to keeping the pool and patrons sanitary and safe, but certainly should not extend to judging whether a child’s bathing suit meets their ideas of “appropriate.”
The PRAB would would more wisely use their time ensuring the pool facilities are as safe as possible and less time worrying about “appropriate dress” and imagined predators. The preposterous explanation for these rules reveals more about its defenders than the breaking of said rules says about those guilty of the infraction.
Children’s young bodies look essentially the same… why on earth would a girl child be required to cover her’s and a boy would not. It is difficult enough to find little girls swimming attire that is not “vampy” with an attempt at imitating the older girls, for crying out loud they can’t even keep the tops on. Why on earth are we even having this conversation.
I agree with making sure toddlers have rubber pants on… who want to swim with the results of a leaky diaper and that does present a health problem. I kind of get the cut off thing, we had a pool in CA and did not let kids swim in cut offs because the unraveling thread did clog the filter. The t-shirt thing is a mystery to me… some people need to protect themselves from the sun. I an mot sure how the staff is going to qualify the people allowed to cover up more because of religious beliefs…. will they have to bring a note or something… so silly.
What is wrong with letting children of both sexes just be children and swim how they are most comfortable… Really… the body image issues happen soon enough.
Anne, from what I remember of the incident last year regarding your daughter, the part-time employee made a mistake with you and your 3 year old, as the unstated guideline (“community standards”) was for girls 5 and up to wear a top, correct?
So it seems like progress to me that the new draft continues to avoid putting an age requirement on attire. Would it satisfy you if the PRAB instructed pool managers to conduct staff training that basically said “Leave it up to the parents. Only intercede with a parent if a girl who’s showing breast development is topless”?
Here’s a hypothetical, sent to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous because they’re in a community leader position:
Our voices have been heard! I am really pleased to announce that I have heard back from Library and Recreation Services Director Lynne Young who emailed me the revised pool rules on Tuesday. She has agreed to remove the sentence stating that “acceptable swim attire must be worn by patrons on the deck and in the water” since it essentially repeats what has already been stated (“all patrons within the pool area must be attired in swimming apparel” and “pool users must wear swimming suits or swimming trunks upon entry into the pool”). Lynne also assures me that the intent with the revised rules was not to place moral judgment on swimwear by using the term “acceptable” and that the focus will be on pool patrons’ physical safety and the proper functioning of the pool water, “allowing parents to have total discretion with their young children.” Writes Lynne to me: “We have no plans to try to police little girl’s (or any small child’s) ‘appropriate, proper or acceptable attire.'” Reporting to the board tonight, Lynne will point out that “You will notice that the rules on attire are focused on safety. We will work with the pool staff to be sensitive to parental rights to determine appropriate swimwear for small children.”
I truly appreciate Lynne’s remarks and action, which reflect more what Lynne and I had discussed last fall prior to the September Park and Rec board meeting in terms of respecting parents’ rights to determine their children’s swimwear and training staff to respect and be sensitive to these. At the September Park and Rec board meeting, however, there was no consideration of this at all as my concerns were completely dismissed by the board members (that is, by those who spoke: David Hvistendahl, another male board member, and the pool manager). When I had presented my complaints to Lynne, on the other hand, prior to this meeting, she in fact expressed a voice of reason on this matter. That this voice of reason now shines through in the revised pool rules as they pertain to attire truly deserves recognition.
In light of my email correspondence with Lynne these past couple of days, I feel quite hopeful as to how the pool rules will turn out.
Note that the rules are still in draft form until they are finalized by May 1.
Griff; if what Lynne proposes in her report becomes pool practice, that is to “work with the pool staff to be sensitive to parental rights to determine appropriate swimwear for small children,” I will be satisfied.
Seriously — read the rules:
1. All patrons within the pool area must be attired in swimming apparel.
2. Pool users must wear swimming suits or swimming trunks upon entry into the pool.
How do you go from topless to bottomless when swimming suits or swimming trunks are required?
Is it really your view that this decision should not be left to parents, but should be mandated by policy? *That* is the real issue.
You seem to think that the parents who have commented here are a) overestimating the extent to which insisting that very young girls wear tops is a form of discrimination or that it can make those girls self-conscious, and b) underestimating the threat from pedophiles and sexually curious adolescents.
I think you’re exactly wrong on both these points, but that’s not the point I want to make. The point I want to make is this: EVEN IF you are right about a) and b), it seems far more reasonable to think that the decision should be left to the parents and not to the board.
I would also point out that your reasoning in point 3 is strikingly similar the kind of reasoning that a) gets deployed to blame victims of sexual harassment (and worse) for what happens to them (“If you didn’t want to be hit on, why were you wearing that?”) and b) leads to women being forced to cover up entirely in certain parts of the world (“Why would you want to draw attention from men? Best to cover up entirely.”)
To be clear, I am not suggesting that *you* blame victims of harassment for what befalls them or that *you* think women should be covered entirely. My point is just that your reasoning with respect to the issue at hand is strikingly similar, particularly given your support of a policy that doesn’t leave it up to the parents.
We appreciate your concern for our children. But surely we should be allowed to make this decision within our own families (even if you think it is the wrong one).
Lynne’s proposed rule changes are an excellent plan. I hope they are enacted and followed.
One can always rely on Lynne Young to be the voice of reason, whether it is as her job as Head Librarian, or the additional Park/Rec tasks she has had to assume because of the lack of a full City Hall staff.
Great news! Thanks Anne.
In an undeveloped child, only outward signs – hair, clothing, etc. – infer gender. A child’s chest is just that: a chest. Must all long-haired children have nipples covered? If the child has short hair and blue trunks, are bare nipples acceptable?
The purpose of female breasts is to nourish babies. How very sad that our society has deviated so far from nature’s intent as to sexualize a child.
Anne, I did go a little off the deep end (pun c/o J.G.) with that comparison. To be honest, I don’t have any problem with a little 3 year old running around the pool topless; I agree with Robbie that there is little difference in a shirtless boy or girl at that age. What I was reacting to was mainly the comments implying that asking a 3 three year old to cover up was completely outrageous and prudish, discriminating, and emotionally scarring to the child.
Also, Anne, I’m wondering your opinion on this – “At what age should it be expected that a girl would cover her top in a public place?”
Daniel, thanks for the concise summary of my comment. It is clear that you read it thoughtfully, despite my hyperbole, and you pulled out my disagreements quite well. Since we will likely continue to disagree with what you identified as points a) and b) let me address my thoughts on the *real issue* you identified.
I am a big advocate for parental rights and decision making. There are many examples where I thinks boards, legislatures, and government authorities have over stepped their bounds by telling parents what to do and how to raise their children.
I think the problem in this case is not that the pool had a rule, but that the rule was ambiguous and subjective. If there was a clear age posted then it would be up to the parents’ to decide how to handle children younger than the posted age. In a sense there is already a rule about girl’s and wearing tops – not any girl can be topless at the pool. So, where does that line get drawn? And who draws it?
In the end, I am glad that the Board has reworded the statement in a manner that is “acceptable” 🙂 to everyone. I think it is a win for all involved.
Some schools require uniforms; others trust the parents in determining what kinds of clothes their children wear at school. I’m in favor of the latter.
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