Of course I don’t want Emma willy nilly flinging her naked body around the Internet. Or, at all. Ever. And if she does, I hope she waits until her forties. But, let’s be realistic: A parent is never completely in control of his or her babies. Should Emma one day decide a good ole boobie flash is on the menu, here’s what I want her to know.
Some day you may decide to flash your naked self. There are different reasons to make this kind of a decision. It could be to fill an unmet need you may or may not be aware exists. The need for love, approval, or a need to fight body shame. God, I hope you skip body shame. Maybe you’ll flash your naked self in the spirit of fun, playfulness, and in celebration of femininity, independence, empowerment and autonomous body ownership. Whatever your reasons, my sweet girl, I hope you take time to consider possible outcomes. I hope you choose someone you trust. I hope it feels amazing.
If you don’t consider consequences, don’t choose someone you trust, and if it doesn’t feel amazing, I hope you find a way to love yourself enough to let it go, learn from it, laugh about it, and ignore the assholes. I hope you don’t let others define you or make you believe your decision makes you a slut or a whore. I hope you reject the idea of sluts and whores because they’re ill-defined, subjective concepts created to control and shame what women do with their bodies. I hope you don’t let anyone control or shame what you do with your body, Emma.
What happened with Amanda Todd is the saddest. The focus was and still is on her actions, when it should have been on loving the shit out of her and calling out the cruelty of those who tormented her. As your mama, do I want you flashing the Internet? Not so much, but it’s not my role to control you. You’ll do things that feel right in the moment you’ll regret later. It’s what humans do. My job is to fill you with enough love now and always that you’re able to see mistakes for what they really are—gifts to grow.
Exposing yourself isn’t necessarily a mistake. It doesn’t automatically depict weakness or insecurity. I’m not sure a 13-year-old has enough solid roots to sensibly decide to expose herself or to weather the backlash, but that’s true for women of all ages. I cringe at the thought of you flashing your body not because it’s wrong, but because what happens next is out of our control. Many of us are missing the ingredients to bear the scrutiny that comes with controversial decisions. If I had enough chutzpah, maybe I’d be naked more often. Or at least be doing less shoulds and more wants.
I’m sad Amanda felt compelled to fill her unmet needs with what she hoped would be positive attention and approval from others. I’m sad she didn’t know or believe all that love and approval was already inside her. I’m sad the very people who asked for what she gave turned her world dark. I’m sad she wasn’t able to say, “I don’t give you permission to steal my power.” I believe Amanda did the very best with what she had. I don’t judge her. I ache for her.
Yesterday you were frustrated that a boy we visited insisted on playing something you didn’t want to play. On the way home you said it wasn’t fair because I taught you that when you have guests, you are to choose activities that interest everyone. You said, “Mom, it’s the decent thing to do because it’s the right thing to do.” Remember how I said the way we do things is only one way and that our way is not The Right Way? And remember how I told you that it’s this kind of thinking that has countries and cultures at war?
I don’t possess the pluck it takes to get naked in a public way, but that certainly doesn’t make it wrong. I admire women doing the remarkable, who are resolute in the face of judgy jerkmouth groups with a vision to shame. Those tenacious women—defying conformity—make the world a little safer and more cultivated for you and me, Em. Instead of shaming them, I choose to celebrate them, and I hope you’ll join me.
I don’t know, kid. I might not have this all right. But, even though I have a long way to go in learning how to love myself and the world better, I’m much closer than I used to be.
I want you to be a safe ally for the Amanda Todds of the world. I want you to know that nothing you do is ever worth taking your own life over. I want you to know that what one person labels a mistake, another tenderly transforms into wisdom and empathy. The world has a lot to say about how women should conduct themselves and most of those ideas are total bullshit. If you want to talk about any of it, I’m your person. I don’t have the answers, but I know a shit ton of smart people we can pull together for world-dominating brainstorming sessions.
You’re not alone, little girl. Never, ever, never, never, never, ever.
All of the loves of all of the universes,