I was reading my Babar the Elephant collection of the original 6 books written in the 1930s by Jean de Brunhoff the other day. Now, Babar has some problems, mainly in the forms of racist and sexist undercurrents, but I loved it as a child, so I sometimes overlook it in favor of nostalgia.
Nevertheless, I was reading the book with the 6-year old granddaughter of my host family here in Michigan, and she is adorable. She isn’t advanced enough in reading to read the book herself, so I described the pictures and sort of summarized what was going on, rather than read everything. There’s a part where some mermaids help one of the main characters, and the mermaids are depicted as topless. Cassidy’s immediate reaction was to cover their breasts with her fingers and declare “That’s nasty!” I responded saying it was just another body part and all women have them (a misleading statement, I know, but I was caught off guard by her reaction). She still refused to look at them, turned the page, and insisted that they were “nasty.”
This really stuck with me – why did she think breasts were nasty? What has she been taught about the body that makes her have such a strong reaction to an illustration of a few breasts? We talk a lot on this blog and in the group about overcoming negative messages we’ve internalized, and I have to wonder how much of it comes from parents/other well-meaning adults trying to keep their children from being too interested in sex? Or to keep them from being interested in pornography? I’m not sure of the reasoning, but telling someone that natural body parts are nasty doesn’t seem to be healthy to me. Why should she feel so much shame about breasts? True, it isn’t appropriate to be shirtless in most public places, but that doesn’t mean it’s nasty.
I’m sure this has been talked about, but how do you talk about bodies and “private parts” with children? It seems like you have to walk a fine line of overwhelming them with information and making them feel ashamed of body parts but not encouraging inappropriate or early sexual behavior … It just seems like a lot to think about! It must be a daunting task to help shape the thoughts and views of another human.