Consent Part 2: Her Body Belongs to Her – The Bossy House

Consent Part 2: Her Body Belongs to Her

Her body belongs to her

What an amazing gift it is to be a mom of a girl! Every day, I get an inspiring reminder of how spunky, strong, opinionated, and creative all young people are. They arrive untouched by the hardships of an oppressive society, and their exuberance and free spirit are a reminder of what’s possible for all of us. 

Our girls get constant messages that they must be quiet and cater to others’ wishes. Their appearance is constantly commented on and their personality is scrutinized. Girls are conditioned to endure hardship, accept things the way they are, and sacrifice for the good of others.

Especially as a mom of a girl, I am learning so much in real time about what the concept of consent entails. It means more than just the granting of permission for physical touch. I wrote about that concept as it relates to respect for her physical body in the first installment in this series.

In this four part series on consent, I tackle: respect for her physical body, what it means that her body belongs to her, the concept of body acceptance, and how teaching your child about consent means honoring her mind so she can voice her opinions and trust her instincts. 

Here, in this second installment, I write about the idea that her body belongs to her.

girl walking with mom to school
Stay tuned for a free printable on teaching consent at the bottom of the post! 

Her Body Is Her Business

Smart people have written about teaching healthy sexuality to children, learning body autonomy and body safety, and preventing childhood sexual abuse. There’s more to be said here, and I could go on, but you get the drift about how this relates to consent.

But beyond protecting them from danger, I believe that our girls need to deeply know that their body and their life belong to them.

Occasionally, my daughter will lick her arm or touch her vulva or pick her nose and I say nothing. NOTHING. The only opinion I have is about touching poop because of germs and she gets the boundary there (you touch your butt, you wash your hands).

I believe that our girls need to deeply know that their body and their life belong to them.

Sometimes, my daughter asks “Can I touch my vulva?” I think she’s asking because perhaps she’s heard that she should not touch her vulva. But I always say “Sure, it’s your vulva.” Very blasé blasé.

I have had the conversation about touching “underwear areas,” and I have (casually, very casually) communicated that there’s nothing wrong with touching, it’s just something people usually do at home. Inside, I’m wishing she would not touch her vulva, but I know that’s only because of the very heavy stigma that our bodies have endured, and I’m not gonna pass that along to her no thank you.

It’s my job to make sure she knows that her body belongs to her. She is in charge of whether it gets touched and she can explore it any way she wants to. I will step in for safety’s sake, and I will fight my own conditioning to make sure she doesn’t pick up the message that somehow she’s not in charge of her body. I am dedicated to her developing confidence about her math skills, why wouldn't I be dedicated to helping her build confidence about her own body?

It’s hard to believe that this concept is revolutionary, but consider the subtle but insane messages our girls get from every corner of society. From purity culture, which teaches girls that their body belongs to their future husband, to the pervasive (and almost exclusive) “pretty” compliments for young girls, to scolding young girls when they reject family advances, these messages all tell girls that, essentially, your body belongs to the larger society. This grooms them for sexual exploitation and silence.   

Not only does her body belong to her, but other people’s opinions about her body, her clothes, her appearance, etc etc etc are irrelevant. Let’s face it, as a girl, she will get a million messages that her appearance is the first thing that people notice and the major thing that is important.

Her Personality is Not Your Business

Not only does her appearance get commented on constantly, but her personality is apparently up for discussion too. I never noticed this until I became the mom of a girl, but dissecting what is pleasing about a girl’s personality is a public pastime. And listen, I’m not talking about discussions you might have with your partner or your parents or your best friends about your child’s growth and development. I’m talking about the lady at the Walgreens saying “This one’s a firecracker. Good luck finding her a boyfriend, mom.” I’m not kidding.

girl riding scooter with cape

It has happened to me about two dozen times that a complete stranger has made a comment about my child to me about their personality. Like “I had a strong-willed child too. I know it’s rough.” Or “She’s so bossy. She’s going to run the show when she gets bigger.” Or “Can’t your child be quieter in this Target parking lot?” Out of all the times that people have made comments, the majority of the comments have been about how pleasing or cooperative she is or isn’t. This is ridiculous.

Perhaps moms of boys can comment about whether they get this too, but I’m floored by how much it matters to people that my child is or isn’t cooperative. Are boys expected to be quiet and pleasing? Is their messy hair commented on as a character flaw? (As in “my daughter never wanted to brush her hair either until I made it a requirement to eat breakfast.”) Tips from strangers about withholding food to get compliance: charming.

Their life is not for others' consumption or enjoyment. It's not to be compared to anyone else or judged for its pleasing nature. 

The fact that she is adorable or cute or sassy is none of anyone’s business. And if we want to teach our kids that their bodies are theirs, we should also teach them about how their LIVES are theirs too. Their life is not for others’ consumption or enjoyment. It’s not to be compared to anyone else or judged for its pleasing nature. Yes, do I wish that my child was more cooperative sometimes, sure. But the HUGE pressure on girls to be cooperative and pleasing in appearance and personality is a pressure and an expectation that I reject.

Dealing with Comments from Others

  • When someone tells me she’s so cute I always say “Thank you” just because the person is trying to be nice and, let’s face, my kid is cute. What I don’t do is enter into a conversation (if I can help it) about the qualities and degrees of her cuteness. I try to move on.
  • I never require her to thank someone for a compliment. When someone says "What cute shoes!" she might answer by talking about how much she loves her light up shoes, and I imagine that the word “cute” is just a substitute for the word “nice” and it’s fine.
  • When someone comments on her body I smile and walk away, and change the subject fast. As in “Oh look at that little butt in that swimsuit oh my god she is so cute.” [smile while backing away from stranger at the pool; mention Care Bears to my daughter.]

How do we actually give compliments then? One incredible mom wrote a pre-emptive holiday facebook post asking her family members to respect her daughters and how to actually engage with them. It’s brilliant, and it helps us think about what kind of compliments actually support our growing girls.

Her message? Find something to compliment besides their appearance and personality. Connect with them about what they like, and ask them more questions about their world. And watch out if you say something weird—these girls will stand up for themselves.

children playing with parents at pre-school

If you must compliment (and who doesn’t love compliments?) I tend to err on the side of compliments that are so general the content is almost meaningless. That way, someone can understand how delighted you are by their child and yet also get no specific information that provides a value judgement. I say things like “Your child is so wonderful.” Or “I loved getting to play with you. We had so much fun!” After all, aren’t compliments just about tone and warmth and connection anyway?

This holiday season, enjoy the ones you’re with! Snuggle up those kids (with permission, of course) and gracefully or not so gracefully back out of weird conversations with confidence. By letting your girl be herself, you’re changing the world, mom!

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Teaching Consent and Body Safety Printable

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