My Daughter Owns Her Body, I Don’t

Your Children Deserve to Have Body Autonomy

Author’s Own

My nine year old daughter recently informed me that she wanted to shave her head. “Just part of it,” she explained, as she sectioned off a large chunk of hair on the side of her head to show me what she meant. My immediate reaction was to catch my breath and count to three. I was not expecting this. But then I repeated what I have told her since the time she informed me she wanted to cut off all of her long blonde hair, at four years old:

“Your body is your body,” I told her.

“Nobody gets to make decisions about your body except for you.” I said.

“Not even me.”

and then…

“You’re beautiful, no matter what.”

Here’s the thing: I know my daughter will face a lifetime of people telling her the ways in which she should dress, and wear her hair: from peers, from men, and from society. She will be told how she should look, speak, and act in order to desirable, how she should sit, pose for cameras, smile, and be sexy (or not-so-sexy). In one million small moments, the world will try to convince her that her understanding of her beauty and her worth is to be found in the perception of others, rather than within herself. She will face a nonstop barrage of pressure to conform and make choices about her body that do not come from her heart, her wants, needs, or desires, but from what she perceives as “right” and “good” and “expected” in the eyes of others. I do not want to be the first person to teach her that she needed to listen to this. I want to be the person who teaches her to fight against it.

At four, I gave my daughter full autonomy over her own body. These words have become a mantra in my household: “Your body, your choice.” There have been times when this was difficult for me. When she decided to get her ears pierced, I agreed. When she wanted to start dying her hair fun colors, I said okay. When she wears an outfit I consider to be ugly and mismatched, or when she wants to run around the house naked, I don’t say a word. When she decides that she doesn’t want to hug someone, or says stop during a tickle fight, I listen. I remind her constantly that she is the owner of her body, and that nobody has a right to decide what she does and does not do with it. I remind her that she should always look inward to make decisions about what feels comfortable to her, and what she considers to be beautiful, to be affectionate, to be safe and loving. I instill in her the right to say yes, and the right to say no, and, most importantly, I instill in her that the answers to these questions always lie within herself, and never in another human.

So last week, when my daughter decided she wanted to partially shave her head, I told her what I always tell her: “Your body, your choice.” It gave me anxiety to watch her do it. What if people were mean to her? What if she regretted it? But I also felt a fierce sense of pride in this nine year old girl who knew that some people might think her new hair was ugly, or weird, or different, but who didn’t let that stop her. I felt confident in her ability to own this decision as her own, and I knew she would learn from it even if she woke up regretting it the next day. She checked in first with herself, and what she wanted, and then made a thoughtful decision about her body from a place of power and alignment with her emerging values. She was owning her body, and her ideal of beauty, and doing so with style and grace.

In the end, it’s just hair, and she’s only nine. There are no real repercussions to whether she shaves her whole head or dyes it hot pink, and to be fair, there would be no obvious repercussions to me telling her that she couldn’t do any of those things, either. But what we sometimes forget about parenting is that it’s all just practice for when they aren’t children anymore, and have to face things as an adult. I wonder now, how will my daughter respond when someone tells her that she needs to change, to compromise on her values, or her comfort, or her wants and needs and desires, in order to make them happy? Will she have the strength to say no when she’s pressured to change her body, or use her body, in ways that feel uncomfortable to her? Because this is not a question of if; it’s a question of when.

Our teenage girls don’t magically develop the strength to set boundaries, or stand up for themselves, or believe that they are beautiful no matter what. These are skills they won’t have when they are old enough to face these adult situations if we do not instill them in our girls when they are young. What messages are you sending to your young girls about beauty and consent? What messages do you wish you had received as a little girl? When we challenge the messaging that we are sending to our young girls, we allow them to grow into the strong feminine powers that we hope they will one day be.

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