Thursday, May 16, 2013

Letting My Daughter Go Topless

We were playing at the park this muggy afternoon when my two year old decided it was way too hot and humid to wear a shirt.  So she took it off and then danced happily away.  I felt a little less carefree, though.  I did a quick glance around, even though the park was basically empty, to see if anyone was watching.  Then I got mad.  Why should it matter that a toddler took her shirt off?
Happy and shirtless

She is two.  Two.  In many countries in the world, not a single person would blink if a two year old was completely nude, let alone just wearing a skirt.  And in my part of the US, no one would care if a two year old boy was shirtless (or even if a 12 year old boy was shirtless or a 22 year old man).  That kind of double standard bothers me. 

The reason that I have heard most often about not allowing a little girl to take her shirt off is that you never know who is watching.  There are creeps out there.  I know that.  But seriously? If a person is so perverted as to lust after a two year old, I am not convinced that the fact that she is wearing a shirt will make a difference. The idea that I should restrict her freedom, not even because of actual physical safety (I keep her close to me regardless of what she is wearing), but simply because of the possible thoughts that might cross some sicko's mind, makes me furious.

It is victim blaming.  It is enabling the pervasive rape culture that we live in.  And that is an outrageous thing to do to our little girls.

I hold that adult women are never "asking for it" regardless of what they are wearing or not wearing.  I want to teach my daughters and my son that their bodies belong to them.  Forcing my toddler to wear a shirt even when she is hot because of what others might think implies that she can control whether or not some creep has perverted thoughts.  I will not make my daughter responsible for the thought life of sick adults.

What about modesty?  As a Christian, I do believe that our bodies are sacred.  I teach all of my children about modesty of heart.  Personally, I don't think that a child's breasts are immodest.  I just don't.  If they have not hit puberty yet, I don't see them as a sexual body part any more than knees or ears or fingers.

Which brings me to another thought.  I am a lactivist who supports public breastfeeding.  There is nothing sexual about a mother nursing her child, and I would fight for any woman's right to breastfeed her babies anywhere they both desire.  Most breastfeeding moms that I know bemoan the way our culture has sexualized breasts to the point that many think a breastfeeding baby is obscene.  Yet, if we insist that a little girl cover up because of attitudes that breasts are always sexual in all contexts, then aren't we contributing to the problem?

I get that there are many practical reasons why a child might need to wear a shirt, whether it is to protect from sunburn, bugs, or even scrapes from climbing trees and all the other things my active kidlets face.  I also know that some families have religious beliefs for everyone involved (although I find it hypocritical to have a different standard for little girls than for little boys, but that is just me).

My children are not props for me to make a point against social norms.  I am not going to encourage my daughters to go topless in public (and I know that my nine year old definitely wouldn't think of it, although the four year old has still been known to ditch an item of clothing here and there).  I don't want them to be uncomfortable (that is kind of the whole point here!) or to face censure.  But when my two year old insists on taking off her shirt on a hot day, I am not going to force her to put it back on just because of what "they" might think, either.  Ultimately, I believe that reinforcing the fact that it is her body and that a little girl's breasts are not sexual objects is more important than making her cover up for any adults who have a distorted view of a child's chest.


Janine said...

Totally agree. To be honest, the older I get, the more it pisses me off that women in general have to wear shirts while men go without. But it's especially stupid for children without secondary sexual characteristics.

Lisa-Anne said...

Absolutely agree!
I, too, hate the double standard, but will not stand for it being applied to *little child* who should enjoy total un-self-conscious freedom.

Lucy Pearce said...

My thoughts precisely ladies. I blogged on this a couple of months back.

Dulce, I was fascinated, and horrified by the responses on your FB. Babies having to cover up because of fears of perverts....seriously??? Children never aloud to run naked even in their own backyards...WTF?!!

kharking said...

Isn't it interesting that we feel more strongly about this for little girls than boys somehow? Our rules are that no one goes around without covering their bum (girls or boys) unless they are actively toilet training. Beyond that, we don't make that much of a fuss about it. My little boy actually wears a swim shirt rather than just shorts because he is so fair that it is a sensible precaution against sunburn. But we also easily avoid that double standard towards exposure that way. We are modest as a family in the sense of treating certain parts of the body with special honor so I'm seeing the same attitude arise naturally as the kids get older.