During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Not for Ourselves Alone” is running a special series called 30 Days of Bodyshaming, designed to give a voice to the many different experiences of girls and women. This series will feature guest posts by professors, writers, a cartoonist, young girls, and mothers. Gut wrenching and honest, these stories are presented in an attempt to bring about a deeper understanding of the plight of girls and women as we make our way in world that, for us, is hostile at its best and violent at its worst.
By Rina Campbell
Two of our friends’ daughters came to stay with us one summer when they were 15 years old. They asked questions about birth control and sex. I hid my horror and answered them as carefully as I could- thinking about how their mothers would be honored to be asked and respond to them as they would have practiced. I had not practiced this. I was terrified thinking about how I would broach the subject with our own daughter, who was only 5 at the time. This was it- our practice shot at parenting! Well, isn’t it all?
I looked at these smart, beautiful, talented girls and was mystified by how they were not interested in talking about their worldview, the languages they spoke at home, or any other interests except BOYS. That was all they had on the brain. If we sat down to watch a movie together, they weren’t interested unless it was a romance with young people and had sweaty guys playing beach volleyball – topless. Ferris Buehler did not hold their attention past the first 8 minutes.
I tried to recall 15 year old me, and she was not in their league. She was fully unaware of her sexuality in her pre-MTV incarnation. I thank God there was no Internet or social media when I was growing up. Adolescence is hard enough going it alone, but trying to hopscotch those rites of passage in front of a worldwide audience while constantly comparing oneself to the millions of other images presented as “the norm” is not a light task.
One thing I could relate to was their preoccupation with their appearance. With far fewer cameras and videos in my world, I was still acutely aware of my insufficient body. And in case I was unsure of my social standing, I had an older brother to remind me daily that I was “fat!” and “ugly!”- which I didn’t know was older brother code for “I don’t know how to talk to you, so I will assert my position by teasing you.” I knew I wasn’t fat, but I knew I wasn’t skinny, and I was always the runt in my class. The saddest thing is, when I had food poisoning and dropped 20 pounds within a week (after being ravaged by the colonies of multiplying bacteria and ending up in the hospital), my brother looked at me in disgust and said “What’s with you? You’ve gotten too skinny,” which I took as the absolute complement. How sad is that?
The truth is, no matter how hard I worked to get in shape or monitor my diet, those words had become the script of my life. When you hear them daily, you can’t not hear them, and they start to creep their way into your identity. I start my Anti-Bullying assemblies with “Sticks and stones may break my bones but…” We know words leave more lasting scars. And if we don’t take care to prevent them, sometimes those scars become self-inflicted. We often pass off the teasing of siblings as “sibling rivalry,” but if we hear our kids putting another sibling down at every turn, or worse– a parent doing so– making sure they have no chance at self esteem, it’s time to intervene or get help from a family counselor.
Rina Campbell is an amazing friend, the most generous person you will ever meet and a powerful community advocate. Her business, Campbell Consulting, has over fifteen years experience in multicultural education, organizational administration, interpersonal communication, customer service, and marketing. Works with schools, corporations, healthcare providers, community organizations, government agencies, and law enforcement to customize and train groups in diversity & inclusion, multicultural competency, team-building, customer service, leadership and conflict resolution. Extensive work with schools in developing and implementing Bullying & Cyberbullying-Prevention and Internet Safety programs.