A woman who accompanied her three-year-old son in a swimming lesson was allegedly told by staff to put on one of the swim school's t-shirts to cover up her one-piece swimsuit, as other parents might complain.
The swim school in question, Happy Fish Swim School, has since clarified that all parents are encouraged to wear t-shirts in order to facilitate their children's learning process.
The school has apologised for the staff member's behaviour.
Told to cover up with t-shirt
Mothership reader Linda (not her real name) shared about her first experience attending Happy Fish's toddler class with her son on Apr. 17 at the swim school's Bukit Timah location.
Linda told Mothership that before the class began, she was instructed by a female staff member to wear a Happy Fish t-shirt over her one-piece swimsuit in order to cover up, as her swimsuit was "too revealing" and other parents might "complain".
She said that this was despite her swimsuit adhering to the swim attire regulations that were sent to all parents:
This is the swimsuit that Linda says she was wearing:
Linda said that she hadn't had any problems with the same swimsuit when she attended a trial class at Happy Fish's Jurong location.
Swimsuit was "too revealing" for other husbands
She claimed that the staff member at the Bukit Timah location told her that some parents had previously complained about other mothers' swimsuits being "too revealing" and "sexy", because their husbands were also in the pool.
After the class ended, Linda said that she confronted another staff member about the incident and filed a complaint through Happy Fish's online feedback channel.
"I do not wish to protect the male agenda (not generalising) to sexualise women's body and I don't think I should cover up for people's insecurities and the poor relationship management with their husband," Linda said in an email to Mothership.
She added that the first staff member's remarks were "very sexist and uncalled for".
Happy Fish management staff apologises
In an email reply to Linda three days later, on Apr. 20, a spokesperson from Happy Fish's management team told Linda that she had spoken with the two staff members on duty on Apr. 17.
The spokesperson apologised for the "unpleasant experience" and the way that the two staff members had "conveyed that point".
She continued by explaining that those two female staff members are two of the school's longest-serving staff and "have receive[d] commendations from many of the customers of their services".
However, the spokesperson added that the two staffers may have been under stress due to some customer complaints recently:
"[I]t was unfortunate that we recently see a rising number of cases of parents complaining about other's swim attire and that they were uncomfortable as their husbands are the ones in the water.
They pushed the responsibility to the School to educate parents on the appropriateness, which we gladly attempted to seek improvement. I suppose that caused a strain on the two staff on the [frontline]."
The spokesperson added that one of the parents who had previously complained about other people's attire was also attending the lesson around the same time as Linda's son was.
"I know that is still not excusable, but I hope you will forgive them for the way this was carried out," the spokesperson said. "They have both received stern warnings and will be working on their communication skills."
The spokesperson said that "in this case, everyone's comfort and definition of sexy also differ", and that the staff member in question has been reminded to be more tactful and respectful.
The spokesperson suggested further:
"Having said that, may I request that you put on the Happy Fish tee as it will definitely help [your son] on his learning to be independent in the water."
"I am there [...] not to seduce other people's husband"
In an email reply, Linda voiced her disapproval with the way that the swim school handled the situation.
"I am there to teach my son to swim, not to seduce other people’s husband," she wrote.
She added that Happy Fish should teach their staff how to respond to such complaints, saying:
"Should their husband could not control their roving eyes, perhaps the husband should be out of bound of the premise.
I assume those family do not go to hotel pools, public pools and beaches. If they do, I can assume how busy the wives are to go around telling people to cover up because their husband is present."
She pushed back at the spokesperson's request that she wear a t-shirt to help her son learn to swim, saying that it was "already demeaning and further pushing down the self-esteem of already struggling women", and asked for a full refund.
T-shirt is to help children grip
Happy Fish spokesperson replied to Linda saying that she appeared to have misunderstood her intentions, and said:
"I'm perfectly fine with you wearing what you have worn as long as it isn't revealing any sensitive parts.
What I suggested with regards to the T-shirt was purely for your child to learn to hold on for independency in swimming."
Responding to Mothership's queries, the Happy Fish spokesperson explained:
"It has always been our School's curriculum for accompanying parent to put on Happy Fish tee. It is for children to grip on and pull themselves up. We are trying to teach the children to be independent.
It is painful when children grip on the skin. Without a tee, the parent has a tendency to hold onto the child as a natural instinct and this may hinder learning."
She said that she had since spoken with Linda to explain this, and resolved the situation.
Apologise that staff's words were not clear
When asked why this rationale was not conveyed to Linda initially, the spokesperson said that it was because of one particular incident with a customer whose one-piece swim attire appeared to be worn loosely. She said:
"I apologise for my staff's choice of words and for not being clear on that."
She explained that parents are given one complimentary t-shirt when they first sign up for a regular term package. The staff will then explain the purpose of the t-shirt to the parents and recommend that they put it on.
She said the reason that Linda was not informed of this during her trial class was because she did not receive a parent tee, and because children are not submerged during the trial class, so there was no need for staff to mention that yet.
However, Linda told Mothership that she was never informed that the t-shirt was for her son to grip onto, and that she only heard about it for the first time at the end of the class when she confronted the staff about the incident.
She added that her son was indeed submerged in the water when he had his trial class.
Linda told Mothership at 6:14pm on Apr. 21 that she has received the full refund from Happy Fish Swim School.
Top photos via Mothership reader and from Happy Fish Swim School's Facebook page.