This past summer, my 4-year-old turned to me while watching a parade with disgust all over her face. There was a man, on stilts, without a shirt. “Why is that man naked, Mommy?” She asked. I told her, without thinking “because boys don’t have to wear shirts”.
Because boys don’t have to wear shirts.
And just like that, the first instance of sexualizing of girls’ bodies versus boys’ bodies began. I could tell my daughter didn’t fully understand – and, to be honest, I didn’t have an answer prepared, anyway. I couldn’t launch into a feminist tirade about how society sexualizes the bodies of girls from toddlerhood and onward – from the very first time we force them to put on a shirt while allowing our boys to run around half naked and free.
Did we ever stop to think that we’re the problem? Our young daughters are no more sexual than their male counterparts, and yet we impose these strict rules around modesty starting from as young as – well, age four, in my case.
I came across a question asked by a well-meaning mother on a Mom group I’m a member of. Admittedly, some members are much more Christian than I am (I’m pretty much agnostic, and at times like this I’m glad to be), so the posts about ‘modesty’ come up fairly often. A poster asked about how to enforce modesty. Her rule was: “reach for the sky, now touch your toes. If anything shows, go change your clothes.” Included with the post was a photo of a beautiful, smiling young girl dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
Her daughter was 9. NINE YEARS OLD. “She is going to be a stunning young woman, she stated. “Tall, with curves like her momma, legs to her neck… short of a shot gun, I’m open to any advice…”.
What the ever loving eff.
If anyone was sexualizing her daughter at all, she was. She’s 9 years old. We don’t describe boys that way, do we? SO WHY DO WE DO IT TO OUR GIRLS? Why are we sexualizing them, when our “intention” (veiled or otherwise) is it do anything but?
I admit my 4-year-old looks like a bit of a hobo these days. While I try to lay out her clothes for her, she has been getting more and more creative and independent, throwing my choices by the wayside. She mixes patterns. Wears pants under dresses. Pairs shorts with sweaters. But do I EVER say anything about her choice in clothing? (Other than giggling to my fiancé that her outfit is “interesting” today). No. Because, even at 4, how she chooses to dress (as ridiculous as I may secretly think it is), is her first true expression of self. Will I crush that and insist she wear the outfits I’ve curated for her? Never.
How about, instead of commenting about the length of our daughter’s legs, or joking about having to get a shotgun, or judging their appearance based on their ‘curves’ at 9, we TREAT THEM THE WAY WE TREAT OUR SONS. How about, instead of sexualizing their bodies based on the length of their hems, we celebrate them for being confident and fiercely independent? How about we all take a stand against outdated and sexist dress codes?
I don’t think we realize that the problem starts with us. That, in many cases, we’re the FIRST “body-shamers” our daughters will encounter. The first people to judge them based on the clothes they choose to put on their bodies.
I will tell my daughter she’s beautiful. I will tell my son (if I ever have one) that he is beautiful, too. I will tell them both that their worth is not defined by the clothes they choose to put on their bodies, or the makeup they apply, or their hair colour. I will tell them they are strong, fierce and capable when they wear shorts. I will tell them they are strong, fierce and capable when they wear crop tops. They are the same person underneath the clothes they wear. Their choices in clothing change nothing about my opinion of or expectations for them. Their clothing is their choice – not mine. I will not comment on my daughter’s curves or legs. I will not sexualize her. I will congratulate her for feeling confident about her body and for her ability to make her own choices.
You should, too.