I saw something today that made me think of you. It was a blog post addressed to teenage girls. Oh I know, you’re only four, but in ten years you’ll be fourteen. It was that fourteen-year-old you I couldn’t help but think of when I read this post, and inside, my heart broke for you.
There will be adults in your world who are very concerned about what you wear and how you carry your body and what you do with it. There will be adults in your life who care more about whether you sway your hips just so than about how good you are at science or how much you love gymnastics or the love you hold in your heart for your brother and others in your life. I wish I could change this for you, but I can’t.
I walked that route, Sally, I tried it. I wore just what they told me and walked just how they told me and tried to make my body invisible. The results weren’t pretty. I hated my body, hated how I looked, hated my breasts and my hips. I saw my body through the eyes of judgmental adults who spent an unhealthy amount of time talking about my body and the bodies of the girls around me. I spent year after year worrying about what those around me thought of my body and whether something I wore might somehow make me less of a person, or at least less worthy of respect. Moving past that was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.
Your body, Sally, is yours. You know that already. You know that you don’t have to hug people if you don’t want to and that you never owe anyone your kisses, even your father and I. Your body is yours. Please, don’t listen to those adults. They see your body as something they can dictate. They will try to make your body theirs. Don’t let them. Don’t let them shame you for your clothing choices or how you set your hips. You are strong and articulate and creative and caring and determined. Your body, your clothing choices, your sexuality—these things are yours, not theirs.
They will tell you, Sally, that you need to “cover up” so as not to tempt their sons—and yet, ironically, they won’t ask their sons to cover up so as not to tempt you. (If you’re like most girls your age, you will very much enjoy afternoons at the pool, and not just for the water or the time spent with friends!) Here’s the reality, Sally: You are responsible for handling your sexual urges and desires, and they are responsible for handling their sexual urges and desires. You are not responsible for controlling their sexual feelings.
There will be times when you will encounter these adults’ sons. If one of these young men treats you differently because of how you dress, run. If one of them thinks you are less worthy of respect because of what you wear or if you enjoy feeling sexy, walk away and don’t look back. If one of them blames you for their sexual urges and accuses you of being responsible for their own lack of control, get out. These adults, Sally, are not raising responsible young men. They are raising young men who will base their respect for you on whether or not you dress or carry yourself according to their specifications. And that is profoundly dangerous.
You are growing up in a world, Sally, that cares more about your body than your brain—or your heart. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not actually primarily talking about teenage boys you will come in contact with, whom I suspect you will find much less hung up on your clothing choices than some would have you think. No, I’m talking about adults who for reasons that are beyond me think it’s their business to tell you what to wear and how to act. The odd thing is that these adults will claim that all their bother about your body stems from their concern for what is inside—and then they’ll turn around and link your clothing choices to your lack of “character.” It’s almost as though they can’t see the contradiction.
I believe in you, Sally. Already you have strong hopes, dreams, interests, and passions. Whether you are four or fourteen or twenty-four, you matter. Someday, when you become a teenager, what I’ve written here will suddenly become very relevant to your life, and I hope, as you read what I have written and remember what I’ve told you over the years, you will come to see that the problem here lies not with you but with adults who find it necessary to make their sons’ emerging sexuality all about your clothing choices. Don’t listen to their bullshit. Keep your head up.