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Sexy—Not the Be-All and End-All

By Lucinda Holt

Just last week, while driving home from school, my six-year-old daughter said to me, “Maya* got her hair straightened.” “You mean she got her hair blown out?” I asked. I needed a bit of clarification. I didn’t imagine that Maya had gotten a relaxer at the age of five. Read more...

Karma Is Not Always a Bitch, Sometimes, It's Your Child

By Lydia Holt

It was cold and raining―not a pouring rain but a drizzly semi-frozen rain. It was the kind of early spring treat of icy, swirling water droplets that renders umbrellas useless. And there I stood with the plastic-covered stroller, waiting. My five-year-old stood several feet from me and his stroller-cocooned little brother. 

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Entries in sexuality (1)

Tuesday
Mar292011

Sexy—Not the Be-All and End-All

By Lucinda Holt

Just last week, while driving home from school, my six-year-old daughter said to me, “Maya* got her hair straightened.”

“You mean she got her hair blown out?” I asked. I needed a bit of clarification. I didn’t imagine that Maya had gotten a relaxer at the age of five. Besides, Maya, like my daughter, has loosely curled hair, and it wouldn’t take much to straighten it.

“Yeah. She was in the mirror in the dress-up area brushing her hair. She kept brushing it over and over.”

“Oh,” I said, wanting to give my daughter the space to share whatever she thought about this. I was prepared for a conversation about hair—straight hair versus curly hair or the locked and tightly coiled curls on my head.

“Maya said she wanted to be sexy,” my daughter explained.

“Sexy?” I asked, feeling an uncomfortable churning in my stomach.

“Yeah, but I told her she was too young to be sexy. You can be sexy when you’re older—if you want to be. But we’re not ready to be sexy now.”

I exhaled and loosened my grip on the steering wheel. My daughter has been listening to me.

She is listening when I complain about Abercrombie Kids’ padded push-up bikini tops for girls. She is listening when I say girls don’t have or need cleavage. And she is asking questions and commenting on what she sees. “Look at this, Mommy,” she says, pointing to an ad on the subway platform that features women in short, tight, jewel-toned dresses, posed with boobs and butts out. This is an opportunity to tell her what’s going on. She listens when I tell her that these pictures are trying to get us to buy something, and they’re using women to do it. As she gets older, we can have conversations about consumerism, desire, capitalism and even “the male gaze,” but for now it’s enough for her to know that women have a lot more to offer than being sexy. She is listening when I tell her that there’s nothing wrong with being sexy when you’re an adult, but that’s not the only—or most important—thing someone smart, loving, and kind has to offer.

We live in a world where bodies—especially women’s bodies—are on sexual display. If I don’t talk to my daughter about these images in the moment, she’s left to make up her own mind about what this all means. Does she have to be sexy to be seen? Does she have to be sexual to connect with boys? (Check out this New York magazine article about how technology and our hyper-sexual culture have influenced what girls think they have to do to attract boys and its impact on how boys relate to girls.)  

Sexual images of women are ubiquitous. They speak a loud, powerful language, but right now, my six-year-old is listening to me and what I say to her matters. Who knows if she’ll be listening to me at 15, but I’ve got her attention now. So, when we’re navigating the sex-saturated minefield of our world, I’m there, guiding her, disarming bombs, and telling her how to get through without having her sense of self destroyed by what our culture says a woman should be—passive, sexual, and available.

Sexuality is normal and healthy. I communicate that to my daughter by dealing with issues of sexuality without any shame or guilt, and I make sure she knows how to communicate her boundaries with other people and who to go to if that line is crossed. But out in the world, there is nothing healthy about sexuality being portrayed as the only currency women have to barter with. This limits who girls think they can be in the world.

A passive, sexual object is a lot less threatening than an actual person with thoughts and a personal sense of agency. But we do a disservice to girls and boys when they get the message that the ideal woman is this object who only has value as someone to be screwed around with—literally and figuratively. Girls end up spending their time trying to be sexually attractive—as if that is the be-all and end-all—to the detriment of their other qualities, which could actually contribute something of real value to our society. Boys end up relating to women as only sexual objects, which limits who they get to be as thinking, feeling people in relationship with the people around them.

I want my daughter to grow up comfortable with herself as a sexual person, but I don’t want her to feel she is defined by being “sexy.” I would much rather have the other elements of her personality define her as someone who is smart, confident, strong, and creative. And that’s who she is proving herself to be when she talks to her friend about not needing to be sexy at five. That’s my girl.

*Maya is a pseudonym.

Related article: Roundtable: 8 year olds in Padded Bras and Thongs, Really?!