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“That’s nasty!”

July 4, 2010

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.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jess permalink
    July 4, 2010 10:18 AM

    I don’t tend to think that it there is a fine line between teaching that our bodies are awesome and encouraging early sexual behavior. Granted, I am not yet a parent. But I think that the idea that your body is something awesome, pleasurable, worthy of respect, and important, meshes really well with lessons about consent, about making sure you are ready before you have sex, about sharing your body only when you want to. I don’t see a conflict there, not at all. A person is far more likely to protect something that they think is precious.

    I also think that WRT overwhelming them with info – these talks are so life-long, or at least, optimally they are. They don’t have to be an info fest, and can definitely always be kept appropriate to a kid’s age and interest. I think that optimally you would integrate these conversations into the fabric of every day life. “this is your elbow, this is your nose, this is your vulva.” “You can’t pick your nose in public honey, just like you should only masturbate (or touch your vulva) in private.” “Doesn’t it feel great to run around and see how strong your body is!” “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.. Stuff like that. None of it is overwhelming. All of it teaches socially appropriate, sexually healthy behavior, and can be started at a very very early age. And of course the info giving will expand from there, but slowly.

    • Jill permalink
      July 6, 2010 10:36 AM

      Jess–I really like the link you left. That’s such a pervasive situation for kids (touching, physical playing) that it would be easy to incorporate the constant lesson, “If she’s not having fun you have to stop” in a way that doesn’t teach the kids NOT to enjoy physical play, and that doesn’t make the kids feel like they are in trouble.

      To Jane’s particular example, I wonder also how much of it is kids being really embarrassed for being so interested. In the sort of “boys are gross” vein, they are probably really confused about and interested in what breasts are and what they do and why some bodies have them and others don’t or don’t seem to. But because it’s “private,” and something adults do not think kids should know about or be interested in, kids feel really uncomfortable about their interest, and want to demonstrate that they do. not. care. about breasts/vulvas/penises/other “private” anatomical features. It absolutely effects the shame ABOUT those parts that Jane talks about.

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