Summer has just begun to slip off the seasonal dial. It’s been a hot one and getting to a pool or a beach has been a prime objective most days. I’ve seen countless little ones splashing through rock pools or creating sandy kingdoms, hollering to their friends in the water. Pre teen girls running along the beach and squealing at the waves and each other. The sun is high and the swimmers are mostly on, though it seems the younger the child the less likely you’ll find them wearing a one piece, or even two pieces of their cossie. I have an adorable photo of my daughter looking out to the horizon, her little bare butt cheeks dusted with golden sand.
Speaking of sand and butts, have you discovered that fab little trick with baby powder? Who knew? Baby powder is the most efficient way to remove sand from feet after a trip to the beach. Works a treat for butts too! But I digress.
The thing that bothers me, is that we are so acutely aware of the dangers within our society, that we can’t relax about nudity. Pedophilia has frozen our reason, so that it is difficult to see the innocent sweetness of little nudie sweethearts without being hit by a bolt of anxiety.
Are they safe?
Is some predator watching them?
Can I prevent harm by covering them up?
Can you even buy baby Burqas?
Am I doing the wrong thing as a parent by letting my child run nude, or wear an itsy bitsy bikini?
I faced similar anxiety watching my son in his first dance concert. Groups of heavily made up girls wearing cropped lycra confections and eyelash extensions took to the stage for the act before his. They gyrated their way through a raunchy rendition of ‘Trouble’. The crowd went wild. I cringed, thinking of my young lad looking on from the wings. Then gave myself an internal face slap. They are just kids, it is me that is interpreting these things through a sexual filter. What does my son see? Colour, rhythm, fun. I hope…. the dilemma.
I’ve read the forums about the sexualisation of young girls, the distress about the increase in products like padded bras, g strings, high heels and bikinis for pre teens. I sympathise with both sides of the argument and I suspect that like many of the things on this parenting journey, we have less control than we think we do. Girls have dressed up and emulated older females since the beginning of time. Child fashion reflects adult fashion. Girls will change away from home to wear the latest fashion, even if Mum and Dad don’t approve. Didn’t you?
The media delivers skinny, minimally curved women clad in little; bronzed brown and perfectly fashioned for the male aesthetic. Young women everywhere depilate all the hair that shows they are, in fact, women. It’s a disappointment that, after all, the predominant media image of women has not yet been revolutionised by the women’s movement. Music videos add their controversial spin on what being a woman should look like. The adult world is sending out the archetype of womanliness. And we wonder why young women go out with their backside creases showing.
It’s very difficult to see all that(!) and not wrap another layer around your daughter. But the thing is, I really, really want my girl to feel proud of and comfortable in her body, regardless of whether it is covered or not. I want her to have the power of body-freedom. Not the self limiting fears over what isn’t ‘perfect’ about her image. I want her to think, “This is me. Just as I am”. I don’t want her to feel that there are parts of her body she should feel ashamed of.
She should grow up considering all her parts, private or otherwise as equally important, special and beautiful in their own right. I don’t want her to cower under the possibility that some freak somewhere is getting their jollies because she is wearing something that highlights her female-ness. I certainly don’t want her to ever believe the lie that it is possible to ‘ask for it’ by what you wear, or don’t wear. Rape and sexual abuse occur because there are people who make disgusting choices to overrule the personal freedom of another. They do these things because of their own mental illness, because of hideous social norms, because humans do bad things to other humans.
I want to teach her to be as safe as she can be; within the understanding that she is a glorious and beautiful person.
I guess I want her to learn make good choices herself. Not because she is afraid of the power of sexual predators, but because she values herself. Is this something that you do by encouraging chaste clothing? Or is it about encouraging safe behaviours, open communications, informed choices? I know that this topic is something we will not shy away from talking about as my girl grows up. I can’t change the world as it is. The media, the pedophiles, the GenY fashion situation. But I can build up my daughter to know that her worth is far deeper than what she does or doesn’t wear. When she was a tiny toddler, looking out to that horizon from the beach, she couldn’t know all the issues that would face her as a female in this society, but she did know that she was awesome, just as she was. I’ll do everything I can to help it stay that way.
There is a popular story that has been doing the rounds about Mohamed Ali. It is told by his daughter Hana in her book about her life growing up with her Dad. She recounts a visit to her father:
My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them.”
He looked at me with serious eyes. “Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.” Source: Taken from the book: More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali’s Life Lessons Through His Daughter’s Eyes.
Except that it isn’t true.
Everything valuable in the world is not covered and hard to get to. The beauty of nature, the abundance of the earth, the joy of relating to other human beings from a place of confidence and peace. Value is not about rarity and market dictations, I choose to have a different value system.
What do I value most in my daughter? Her unique self. Sandy bottomed, hip hop happy, free, innocent and unfettered by all this grown up anxiety. Long may it last!
What do you think? Do you have daughters and worry about what they wear? How do you address the issues of body-shaming vs. over sexualistion? Does it bother you?