The importance of self-expression, consent and bodily autonomy for our children.
We recently went into a well known high street stores children’s section. Ava approached the shop assistant;
“Excuse me, do you have any dinosaur clothes?”
“Um yes follow me, we have this.” The shop assistant handed Ava a purple t-shirt with a sparkly pink T. rex on the front.
“Thank you, but dinosaurs weren’t pink.” Ava replied.
“It’s a just a dinosaur one” said Ava confused. We found her size and bought the t shirt, from the boys section!
But I ended up feeling how I always feel after clothes shopping, frustrated. Frustrated that girls stuff is pink and bright, and boys stuff is blue and dull. Frustrated that there is even a girls/boys section. Why can’t it just be clothes for all kids. Frustrated that we are still battling stereotypes and fitting children in boxes from such an early age. But mostly frustrated that Ava left the shop feeling wrong for being a girl and wanting to wear a dinosaur t shirt that wasn’t pink and sparkly.
I realise that it is difficult to understand how giving your child full bodily autonomy works when children need to do something like brush their teeth, or brush their hair, or in a medical situation. But in real life its actually simple. We just talk to them. We explain why we brush our teeth, shower, brush our hair, wash our hands, and what happens if we don’t. Once they understand that they are doing something that benefits them and makes them feel healthy they tend to get on board.
A recent example of autonomy in a medical situation was last week when we needed to get our travel vaccinations. Ava was really worried and didn’t want to get them done. We gave her plenty of advanced notice, talked to her about why we needed them and, most importantly, we reassured her that it’s ok to feel worried and that it may hurt a little. Obviously in an extreme medical situation (because someone will inevitably ask) we would have to override their autonomy, but this would be done as respectfully as possible.
Ava has anxiety, loud noises, crowds and new situations are one of her triggers. She likes to wear her wooly hat, it is her comfort blanket and is one of the tools that helps her feel less anxious in social situations. She told me it makes her feel hidden, she wears it from the minute she wakes until the moment she sleeps. It is almost an extension of her being. But, my goodness, the amount of times people comment on it, touch it, pull it off her head, mock her for wearing it. It is always done in a light hearted manner, in jest. But it really hurts Ava and is an invasion of her space. You would never approach an adult, pull off an article of clothing and laugh about it. How weird and inappropriate would that be? It saddens me that people treat children this way without even realising how wrong it is.
Likewise when people force children to cuddle and kiss. Imagine being in a social situation and people are telling you to kiss and cuddle someone you don’t feel comfortable kissing and cuddling. You can see where I’m going with this. You’re not teaching children to be affectionate, you’re teaching them that consent doesn’t matter and that their body is not their own to make decisions about. This can lead to some pretty toxic thoughts and feelings in later life.
Our daughters like to wear clothes that reflects the things they like and feel comfy, boys or girls they don’t care. Why should anyone else?
We’re hoping that by modelling respectful parenting and giving our girls the freedom to express themselves however they please we can raise strong, confident humans who will respect others choices too.
Respect is always the key. It’s not too much to ask for really, is it?