The Body is Not an Apology promotes radical self love and body empowerment. If we are to truly advocate for these values, then we need to not only do this work for ourselves as adults, but do it for children as well. We adults struggle with these issues mainly because of the culture we were raised in and how the adults in our childhood treated us. Knowing this, I believe we have an obligation to learn from our own experience and try as hard as we can to give the children in our lives a better chance to grow up with radical self love.
One thing I believe we are terrible at teaching our children is how to make the rules about their own bodies and their personal space. Some of you may be surprised by that statement because so many of us tell the children in our lives never to let anyone touch them in a private body area and never to talk to strangers. Even though we teach kids body safety in term of sexual abuse, we at the same time teach them that their bodies are not their own.
Here is a simple example:
Parent: “Joey, it’s time to go. Give your grandmother a hug.”
Joey: Crosses his arms and looks at the ground.
Parent: Getting close to Joey’s ear, “Don’t be rude, give Grandma a hug.”
Joey: Whispering, “I don’t want to.”
Grandma: “Joey, don’t you love me? Come here and give me a hug goodbye.”
Many of us do this all the time with the kids in our lives. I have done it to my son. I was taught that we hug our family members— that it’s a sign of love, a sign of respect. When my son started to not want to give hugs to family and close friends, I started to panic a little bit. I didn’t want him to be rude. I wanted to teach him respect. When I did not require that he give a hug, other adults were upset with me for not parenting better and teaching my son respect for his elders.
[Image description: A young boy and his mother are sitting in front of a tan colored wall. The boy has short brown hair and is wearing a naby blue winter coat. His mother has her arm around him and she has brown hair in a ponytail, red glasses, and she is wearing a royal blue wool coat. They are both looking forward and smiling. Photo is copyright of Jeff Norris.]
Finally I realized that if I believe we all decide what gets to happen to our bodies, and if I do not think adults should be forced into intimate contact, I should never require my son to give up authority over his own body. Not for anyone.
Hugging is not a sign of respect. A sign of respect is when we treat other people with care and we honor their wishes. A sign of respect is when we do not force our bodies on another person. Requiring that our children hug others as a sign of “respect,” or out of duty, or to prove their love means we are not respecting our children.
In fact, we are teaching our children three things:
1. Their bodies are not their own.
2. People in power can take advantage of their bodies.
3. When they have power, they can take advantage of other people’s bodies.
We can teach our children to be respectful by teaching them to say goodbye to their grandparents and thank their grandparents for having them over for dinner. Our children do not need to give “hugs and kisses,” or even say “I love you,” if they do not want to.
I encourage all of us to think about the ways in which we accidentally teach our children that their bodies are not their own, and take steps to end that cycle. I know it’s hard because the pressure from other adults is fierce. For the safety of the children in our lives, whom we love and seek to protect, we need to do it anyway.
[Headline image: Against a white background, the photograph shows a small girl with brown curly hair and fair skin is sticking her tongue out. She has on a black and white polka dot dress and a thin white headband.]