This morning I found myself in a conversation with an old friend, discussing childhood differences in how boys and girls were expected to behave. She related to me an incident when she was a child, attending her brother’s baseball game. On the way home, her brother stated, matter-of-factly, from the back seat, “Mom, I need a bigger cup.” She distinctly remembers being embarrassed by the statement. She went on to say that she never would have been comfortable stating the female version of that statement – “Mom, I need a bigger bra” or “Mom, I am out of tampons” – in front of her brothers.
Why are boys more comfortable discussing “personal” details of their bodies than girls? I must agree that I would never have gone to my mother with my father present and professed the need for new bras. I hid the fact that I shaved my legs from my mother for literally years. No one thinks anything untoward about a guy stating almost anything about his body and how it functions; yet a woman who does the same would be considered crass.
From the time my daughters were old enough to understand the basics of their bodily functions, I have informed them that they could tell me literally anything – and they took me seriously. There were no embarrassed looks, no blush-stained cheeks, no whispered words that must be repeated to be heard. I am happy that they have felt this way, because had my mother given me the same permission, I am certain I would not have heeded her words. Her own actions demonstrated that this was not acceptable. Our “discussion” about my menstrual cycle took the form of a small pamphlet that I found on my dresser one morning and the single question, “Do you have any questions?” when she came to take it back!
It is incredibly important that we encourage our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, sisters to talk to us about their concerns, their questions, and even their pride in their bodies. The silence of women is too often our downfall. Women do not report rapes because they are ashamed. Why? It is not the woman who did anything wrong; yet discussing this forcible act of sex is embarrassing to her because we are taught that sex is bad or wrong and that we must have done something to encourage this type of attention. This is so untrue!!
Despite the fact that women are bombarded with advertisements urging them towards methods of early detection for breast cancer, to heed the warning signs of ovarian cancer, to be conscious of their bodies’ cycles to begin caring for our unborn children early, we still have an incredibly high rate of female cancers that are not treated until they reach advanced stages and unborn children who do not receive prenatal care until their second – and sometimes third – trimester.
We have teenage girls who get pregnant when birth control is readily available; pregnant teens who have their babies without parental knowledge and leave them to die despite ‘safe haven’ laws; and young girls who become sterile from venereal diseases because they are too ashamed to go to their parents or another trusted adults with the symptoms displayed by their bodies. How can we accept this?
Last week my youngest daughter came to me with a lump near the lymph glands in her armpit. It turned out to be nothing; however, I am grateful that she felt comfortable enough to come to me. Not only were we able to quickly assess the situation, which would have given us better treatment options if needed, but it opened the door to an excellent discussion on breast self-exams and how breast tissue is not confined to the area that most women consider to be the extent of their breasts. I am very thankful that neither of my daughters are instilled with this sense of embarrassment that keeps them from talking about their concerns for their bodies!
But many young girls, teen girls, and even young adult females – let’s face it: even older adult females – are embarrassed by the functions, size, shape, image, touch, smell, etc., of their bodies. It is time that we shake off this stigma and claim our bodies as the gifts that they are!
Teach your daughters to take pride in their bodies. I am not in any way encouraging or condoning the media images that are forced upon our young (and not so young) girls that their bodies must be a particular shape or size in order to be beautiful. I do not care what shape or size a woman’s body is; if she is caring for her body, keeping it healthy and strong, then she has reason to be proud of herself! That emphasis on personal strength and health should be our main concern.
We must assure our daughters that they do not have to be ashamed or embarrassed to discuss their bodies. We cannot do that if we are ashamed or embarrassed ourselves. Our daughters must be able to come to us when they are considering sexual activity so that we can arm them with facts before they make such a decision. We need to be realistic about matters of sexual activity and while it is certainly admirable to promote abstinence, we must be willing to discuss all other options so that our daughters are prepared regardless of the decision they make.
We must not promote shame when they come to us with the functions of their body, whether it be a missed period, a lump in the breast, or the first signs of a yeast infection. We must teach them to care for their bodies in all aspects – breast self-exams, the importance of annual pap smears, and the understanding of how our bodies work so that they will know when they are not working properly.
We were given our bodies to serve us and to serve in our purpose in this life. If we neglect them due to embarrassment or shame in how they operate or how they appear to others, not only are we doing ourselves a disservice, but we are failing to live up to our charge in this life. The stigma regarding women’s bodies must be broken. We must begin by eliminating this embarrassment and shame within ourselves, and then by passing along this strength to our daughters. What are we waiting for?