Leave Their Bodies Be
I was going through some of my children’s clothes trying to do my quarterly rotation of items...you know, filling the “donate” box with items they could no longer fit and shifting items from my oldest daughter to my youngest. So I had my girls (ages 5 and 7) trying things on to see what fit and what didn’t. I immediately identified with my oldest because many of the pants (jeans specifically), wouldn’t pull up over her hips. This is and has been the constant story of my life, but I recall so many negative feelings being associated with this situation. Fortunately, my daughter seems to pay it no attention. She just sees it as an opportunity to buy new clothes. 🤷🏽♀️
See, for as long and far as I can think back, my body has been “something to discuss.” In the first grade, at age 5 1/2, I was labeled as “over-developed” with a rear end that sat up firm and round. Obviously now, as an adult in our current cultural climate, it’s sought after and glamorized...so much so that people are willing to attain one surgically (that’s a different blog for a different day). But as a child, it sometimes felt like I was wearing a red bullseye 🎯 on my butt. Clearly there were other young girls with large behinds but I can only speak to how this made me feel at such a young, impressionable age.
I can recall my first fist fight in elementary school. It was against a boy. You know why? Because he grabbed my butt and popped my bra strap. Smh. Boys were so out of control in the 80s, but I digress. I didn’t understand why at the time but I began to hate the way my body looked for the negative attention it seemed to attract. And every time I would dismiss my hateful feelings and start to exude a little confidence in myself (including my butt), I would be faced with yet another scenario that made me second guess myself. I remember in the 6th grade, I was on a field trip (without my BFFs) and I was surrounded by a childhood rival and her friend who essentially came to “check me” about my attire. Apparently, earlier that week I had worn some tight pants (stretch pant/legging type) with a shorter shirt. This had offended them in some way. They went on to tell me that I didn’t “need to wear clothes like that to get boys” and that I should dress more like them (in their baggy pants). I’m somewhat downplaying this conversation because I can barely remember all of the details (this was 25 years ago...lol), but the point is, these girls were MAD AT ME. They wanted to fight me. Months later, we did end up in a near fight (me and my girls versus them) that cost me my spot as cheerleader captain. The fight may have been unrelated to the conversation they were having with me on our field trip, but the point is that these 11-year old girls had an issue with me (worth discussing) because of the way MY body looked in a particular pair of pants.
Now, at the time, I was young of course, but definitely not a push-over...so I spewed back some words that included them not “buying my clothes” so not needing to “worry about what I wear.” And I walked away. But for some reason, that scenario always haunted me. I can remember wondering if maybe I was calling too much attention to my body. I mean, I had heard things muttered from older women before about what types of clothing were appropriate versus inappropriate and what someone “must be looking for if they’re wearing something like that.” And while it may have been because of the increasing popularity of the group TLC and the singer Aaliyah, I DID, eventually, begin to dress more like the girls who cornered me on the field trip. My new attire was baggy jeans with a more fitted shirt and boy’s boxer shorts poking up out of my pants. Smh. Lol. I don’t know why...but it was current fashion at that time, in my school. 🤣😂
My new attire didn’t obliterate people’s comments about my body, but without SEEING clearly how robust my derrière was, I do feel like the comments and attention in school slowed down. Still though, getting dressed for church, throwing on ‘play clothes’ and even lounging around the house in pajamas became problematic for me at times. I had an adult female cousin once ask me, in almost these exact words “Are you having sex yet, because that booty is definitely developed?” I cringe even thinking about it to this day. It made me so uncomfortable and so annoyed. First of all, contrary to popular belief, having sex does NOT make your behind grow! And I was a 12-year old virgin at the time who had no desire to have sex. She and I weren’t close so I saw the comment as invasive and rude. But it was yet another example of how people feel that YOUR body is somehow a part of an open forum discussion when and where they choose.
Now, I’m fairly confident that this cousin wasn’t trying to upset me or make me free awkward...it was probably similar to something that was said to her growing up or maybe she had overheard others talking like this. I honestly don’t know (and don’t care). What I do know is that, now, as an adult, I am firmly against this rhetoric. Body shaming can come in a variety of packages. And just because someone has ‘admiration’ for a part of your body doesn’t give them the right to touch it, discuss it (without your leading) or make assumptions about you based on the way you’re shaped OR the clothes you wear. For years, I felt so self-conscious about the items I chose to wear. I literally avoided skinny jeans until I was almost 30. And it wasn’t because I didn’t think they’d look nice on me...it was because I was afraid of the perception I might give off. I was constantly in my head about how pants and dresses laid on my butt and how I needed to size up in clothing (even if that meant I’d look frumpy).
In high school, I used to walk to the bus stop from my home to go to work at the mall and while it was only a short four block walk, I would be so intentional about what I decided to wear to work. It was as if I was preparing to walk through a war zone. The cat calls, cars pulling over, men on the streets approaching me or saying disgusting things to me would sometimes be completely overwhelming. And for years, I thought that this was at least partially MY FAULT. I would assume that if I had worn a longer dress or shirt, or baggier pants or something, that maybe I would not have been bothered. But the reality was and is that those men had the problem, not me. Those women that co-signed that type of behavior from men had the problem, not me. In the beginning I was a child, innocent and hopeful. Other people’s opinions and assumptions about my body should never have become MY problem. But they did. I let them because I didn’t know any better.
Well now, I DO know better...so I’m putting that knowledge in action by DOING better. I’m taking the mantra of “leave their bodies be” to heart in my life. My daughter has no insecurities about her body right now and that makes me smile. Obviously, I realize that I won’t be her only influence in life so this could change easily, but I’m going to do my part to ensure that her self-esteem and comfort with her body remains ROCK SOLID. I don’t bother her when she throws on her leggings after school to play outside. She doesn’t have to wear a long shirt to make sure her butt is covered up. She doesn’t need to be concerned about her weight or how much her stomach pokes out. I want her to feel freedom and confidence in her body and not shame and fear. Her body is a gift from God. Every flaw is still perfection. She can run, jump and move with ease....that’s a blessing. All she needs to do is her part to care for that beautiful temple and let God do the rest. In my mind, I want to be just like her...free...but I’m still unlearning 36 years of brainwashing from society, patriarchy and cultural influence from the 1980s (lol). I will get there though, I promise. And if you’re not there yet, I pray you’re on your way too....if not for yourself, then for your daughters (and sons as well)!
******DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting that children (especially young girls) be encouraged or allowed to wear skimpy and truly inappropriate clothing. Obviously, we all need guides and for my children, I do [plan to] teach the importance of not bearing it all, maintaining some level of modesty in their attire and honoring their body in their clothing choices. What I am saying here is that the idea of shaming someone out of particular clothing because of their shape, body size or curves is extremely inappropriate and demeaning. We should all have the freedom (to a degree in childhood but to infinity as adults) to choose the clothes that we wear and that WE believe flatter our bodies. We should not be judged for them nor assumed to be a “certain type of way” because of them. It’s time to be free people. So, be free.*****