I Won’t Teach My Daughter It’s Wrong to Flash Her Boobs

Shannon Fisher wants her daughter to know that no one ever has a right to shame her over what she chooses to do with her body.

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.

♦◊♦

Dear Emma,

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.

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 admire women doing the remarkable, resolute in the face of judgy, jerkmouth groups with a vision to shame. Those tenacious women—defying conformity—make the world a little safer, more cultivated for you and me.

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,

Mama.

 

Originally appeared at Truthfully.ca, reprinted with permission

For a dad’s perspective on this issue, read Mark Greene’s A Brief Note to You, Our Children, On Being Naked on the Internet

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About Shannon Fisher

Shannon has been writing on the web since 1998 when you could make a grilled cheese sandwich before your page loaded. At truthfully.ca she writes about vulnerability, courage and mental health. At datawithasoul.com she has the entire web on a spreadsheet. Before content strategy, Shannon spent nine years teaching small humans.

Comments

  1. Andrew Pollom says:

    This is not the article I expected from the title. This is a really brave and powerfully piece and I applaud you , Shannon, for this. In fact, I’m stealing it for my five year old daughter. I think universally as a parent, the though of our little girl flashing, or little boy pulling out his penis- stops the heart in fear. Yet, the way you are having this conversation and wrote this piece, in my opinion, is spot on. Thank you.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I generally agree. A good approach to the subject.

    (One suggestion, though: besides the question being shamed, it would be good to explain that in some cases flashing your boobs in public might be illegal or against the rule of the place. There may be institutional consequences, not just social consequences to be aware of. As a girl, you could even get someone else in deep, deep, DEEP trouble for flashing them.)

    • A great suggestion! And I would definitely be having that part of the discussion, too. Like I said, I hope she waits until she’s 40, then that part at leasat will be moot.

    • I believe that point was addressed in passing when Ms. Fisher asked her daughter to consider the ramifications, namely that there ARE ramifications. Not specifying all the various ramifications allows her to sidestep a discussion about whether or not laws and customs even should be obeyed. Sometimes disregard for laws and practises is necessary to generate change.

  3. A wonderful article, Shannon. I especially like the way you draw a bead on the purveyors of shame.

  4. I’ve flashed n done stuff on webcam for others, big deal I say. No one should be shamed or fired for showing some bits to someone on a camera. What business is it of other people?

  5. I have three teenage daughters and am an advocate for sexual abuse prevention education. From your article, I can tell Emma is not yet 13. If she were, I am not so sure you would give her this advice. I have a 14 year old and we are a very liberal household. But life as a teenager, coupled with life on the Internet, it is a zoo out there. Yes! I agree! Let our daughters be proud of who they are and their bodies but expose them on the net, I am not so sure. Pedophiles lurk out there and pretty soon your Emma’s nude body will soon be fair for them all.
    All the best Jayneen

    • I’m not giving her the advice to flash herself. My message that if she does, don’t be eaten by shame that leads to death. I’m asking her to talk to me.

      • Jayneen Sanders says:

        Hopefully she would and will talk to you, but at 13 peers rule. And just one devastating comment from one ‘in’ peer can overrule all the love and concern so sincerely given from you, sadly.

    • a pedophile wants nothing to do with a girl with breasts the perve are after children who have not developed

  6. Do we have a double standard? Is it ok to teach men to flash their ‘jewels’ at little girls or on the street? Last time I checked, a man may get arrested for public exposure. Some women may consider a man flashing his jewels offensive or shame him as a creep.

    • I’m not teaching my daughter to flash herself. I would have the same advice for my non-existent son: if you do something like, don’t be defined by it. Don’t be gobbled up by the shame.

      I don’t know too many women who have requested men to expose themselves. Women are asked often. When a man does it, it’s usually uninvited.

      My pieces wasn’t about random flashing on the street—I’m thinking of things like chat rooms, texting, email.

      My focus is less about my daughter’s actions and more about her feelings that follow and the damage shame does.

      • Joanna–thanks for catching me…I took it out of context. I’m big girl, I can admit when I get carried away.
        Shannon — The title skewed my interpretation, I’m sorry.

        I don’t want to see man’s jewels in public, any more than he needs to see your daughter’s jewels in public, unless everybody is naked. “Getting naked in a public way”, triggered my protective instinct.

        Women should not be ashamed of their boobs, even if she’s missing one or two. Nor should her boobs be a source of her real power. Her real source of power is between her ears and underneath her left boobie.

        • In all fairness to men. Men should not be ashamed of their jewels, even if he’s missing one or two. Nor should his jewels be a source of his real power. His real source of power is between his ears and underneath his left peck too.

        • Fair enough, Joan. Titles are to get you to read. I stand by my title, but I can see how it would be alarming, too.

          Nothing wrong with a protective instinct.

          • I find it interesting- and strange- that a piece about promoting positive body image-particularly to do with owning one’s own physical self- uses the slang word “boobs” instead of “breasts.” In my experience as a sex educator with teens, I have often encountered many females who are uncomfortable with their genitalia and potential/current sexuality- and part of this negativity is apparent through an almost knee-jerk refusal to engage in and/or themselves use the actual words for the body parts that make them feel ashamed.

            While obviously not the same context at all- I’ve never heard of the euphemism “jewels” before, but am honestly quite creeped out generally by any euphemisms for genitalia that imply different or additional meaning. Why use them? Am very perplexed on most basic level-issue of motivation.

      • Girls can flash their vagina’s and butts in public and exhibit them on the internett too and im sure most men would find it arousing at best and amusing at worst.

        Guys would certainly be creep-shamed for exposing their body parts.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I think it’s pretty clear Shannon’s not saying that in this article.

    • I dont know what you mean by men jewels, but I assume its a penis. And no, flashing penis is not equal with flashing boobs. Penis is equal to vagina. So if men can flashing their “pecks” and “abs” without shame, women also can flashing their boobs without shame.

      And what about women flashing vagina in public? I said its gross (ewww) and uninvited just like men flashing their penises . I would say shes a creep too.

      • Girls can flash their vagina’s and butts in public and exhibit them on the internet too and im sure most men would find it arousing at best and amusing at worst.

        Guys would certainly be creep-shamed for exposing their genitalia.

      • I dont know what you mean by men jewels

        yeah you guessed correctly, ‘jewels’ is anglo-english slang for the pen.is and the scro.tum.

  7. I like the article a lot better since Shannon clarified her position.

    One time a brother of a friend made a comment about how guys will try to get women to sleep with them, but then call the women sluts if they do. And I see the same dynamic with “show me your boobs” and marti gras beads and girls gone wild.

    It’s really just… stupid and frustrating that both those standards exist (that women are pressured to do things that turn men on and then treated badly if they do).

    • Totally. And you’re right, it’s often the women/girls feeding the shame of other women/girls. We are the worst to one another.

      • I didn’t mean to specifically shine a light on women shaming other women for it. Men do it too (“I wouldn’t date her, she’s slept with too many guys”).

  8. Shannon

    I hope you realize this is a double edged sword.

    A young woman can expose her body parts in public or exhibit them on the internet and get instant attention, thrills, and validation as a sexual being. But at the same time she’ll be shamed and labelled a ‘slut’ for doing so.

    So a question comes to mind..

    Do you wish for women to have it just like men?

    Would you rather have a world where girls face no pressure and have no incentive to exhibit their bodies, because the sight of their body parts have no sexual value? Where there wouldnt be any teenage girl posting their stripping videos on youtube and getting a million views? Where there wouldnt be girls sending out their boobs/butt pics to the guys they fancy, nor there would be guys bullying girls into showing them and later blackmailing them?

    Instead, any girl who does so will be shurgged off as a creep because, as you said in regard to men, such behavior would almost always be uninvited and unwanted. Far from having sexual value it would have potential to offend people.

    In such a world the issues you highlight wouldnt exist and these narratives would be missing from lives of young women.

    • Tim, I don’t think that’s the world I’m looking for. I’m looking for a world where men and women have more respect for women. I want us to be valued and celebrated. Even when and maybe especially when we make mistakes.

      Some of those issues wouldn’t exist in the world you describe, but there would be other ones to manage. I think all I really want for me, my girl, and the planet is more love. I’d like for us to stop being so awful to one another as if we never have made any mistakes ourselves.

      I want it to be safe to make a mistake publicly or to make decisions not everyone understand without the fear of being emotionally slaughtered.

      • Sadly in the teen world, any ‘slut shaming’ will most often come from other girls.

      • You havent explained whats wrong with a world where men are as indifferent to women’s bodies as women are to men’s. The problems you discuss would disappear completely. Whats wrong with men and women having it equal in this area? You do acknowledge the problems youve discussed only affect girls and not boys. Then whats wrong if girls have it just like boys?

        I also dont understand what you mean by “I want women to be valued and celebrated”

        Its one thing to ask for not being disrespected, judged and scorned for exposing/exhibiting one’s body and its totally another to ask for being valued and celebrated for doing the same. No one is entitled to the latter. In fact that sounds very childish.

      • If you want girls to not be shamed and judged for exposing themsevls, that is totally possible without celebrating them for it.

        What you should ask for is de-sexualization of girls bodies so when a girl does flash her boobs, or puts an ass-shaking video on youtube, people just walk by with INDIFFERENCE. People dont give her any attention or place any value of her exposed body. Just the same way people would be INDIFFERENT to a boy who removes his shirt.

        But you dont seem to want that either. Because you want to have it both ways. INDIFFERENCE is not what you want.

        You realize there are certain advantages that come from sexual value placed on women’s bodies and you dont want to let go of them. You want young girls to have the attention, thrills and power that comes from flaunting their sexuality (in a way boys cannot) . You just want to do away with the negative consequences

        That is selfish and is not any grounds for gaining empathy. That is not asking for equality either.
        Interesting that no one has called you out on this.

  9. “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.”

    For one thing, you just put a 13 year old on the same footing as an adult women. “ … isn’t necessarily a mistake” What? It’s good judgment?

    Out of curiosity, what does your daughters dad have to say about this? Does he feel the same way?

    I’m good with teaching daughters not to be ashamed of their bodies but I don’t feel that my expecting my daughter to not expose her breasts in public is in any way controlling. Why are parents so confused about raising their kids as being viewed as “controlling?”

    Remember your words to your daughter when you’re at the store and in front of your child, a man is wearing his pants below his butt cheeks. And the same man has his underwear where part of his crack is showing.

    • Hey Tom,

      In the second part of that statement that a 13-year-old isn’t typically equipped to make those decisions, and that even adult women often lack the resources.

      “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 don’t put them on equal footing; I point out that women can still be just as insecure as a 13-year-old.

      My husband loved my post. I won’t speak for him though. I’ll see if he’ll respond to you.

      Oh I’ll do my best to stop my daughter from exposing herself on the internet—but I cannot control everything she does. That’s not a realistic goal. I was raised in home with very high expectations and I got into all kinds of trouble.

      I’m not sure what your point is about a man’s butt cheeks. What are my words to my daughter in that case?

      • With your daughter next to you, a young man (16 year old) is standing at the counter with half his behind hanging out. Your daughter says “that’s disgusting.” A shaming moment for the young man, yes? Double standards? How would you explain it to your daughter? IMO, it’s not shaming in that it’s simply inappropriate and there is nothing wrong with calling the guy out on his inappropriate behavior.

        From what I’ve been able to tell, Amanda had parents who loved and cared for her and had compassion. It’s the outsiders who put her down and shamed her. But then again, back when I was that age (a looooong time ago) I didn’t do a lot of things simply because my parents would have been embarrassed. I didn’t want to exhibit shameful behaviors because of how I felt about them, how I respected them. And if I had, I expected my parents to come down real hard on me.

        • It IS shaming. If those were her words, her goal is to make him feel badly. If she was uncomfortable or concerned for him, she could deal with it more discreetly. And who’s to say the dude is doing it on purpose?

          What’s the double standard you’re talking about? I’m missing your point.

          I also believe Amanda had loving/caring parents. My focus is on the bullies. You and I do not disagree on that point.

          • “And who’s to say the dude is doing it on purpose? Believe me when I tell you that it’s intentional. I work with adolescent males and “sagging pants” is one of their fashions statements. I was at a store where this elderly lady almost fainted when a guy with a hairy behind bend over the jewelry counter and bared at least 4 inches of his hairy crack. And below that was a good 8 inches of underwear.

            “Shaming” was the last thing I was thinking about …. Total disrespect for the people around him. And being disrespectful is, in my book, shameful behavior.

            Shannon, I’m sure you and I agree on a lot of things. But as an older parents who raised kids through the so called “formative years” to a younger parent who obviously cares a great deal for her daughter….. be watchful at all times. The morons out in the world are pros at sniffing out the vulnerable.

            • Ha. I know it’s the fashion for guys to wear their pants down low. It’s the soggy crotch their after. (That I’ll never understand why makes me feel like I’m an old lady finger-wagging The Youth Today.) The boys mostly wear long shirts to cover the resulting low waist, too though. I know that in women’s fashion, there’s a trend for low-cut jeans. I’ve been caught with my cheeks accidentally in the air a number of times.

              Sure, some of them are doing it on purpose. Oh well—it’s a butt! There are worse things.

              I believe I am watchful, Tom. I’m not advocating for my daughter to flash her boobs. I’m not promoting dudes to flaunt a little butt in the super-market. If those things happen, we’ll walk through what happens next. We’ll do it in a way that keeps the shame at bay as much as possible. Niether of them have to be the end of dignity and respect.

            • “Niether of them have to be the end of dignity and respect”

              But neither have to be valued and celebrated either.

    • Hi Tom,

      I didn’t just love Shan’s post, I agreed with it. As a parent I want to fill my child’s life with love and the ability of make good decisions. I also don’t want her to ever become crippled by a past decision. I too want my daughter to be a safe ally for the Amanda Todds of the world. For her to not be caught up in shame and to know that she isn’t alone.

      I don’t have the answers, but I do believe that conversation like this is part of moving us all forward.

      • Making good decisions means knowing what’s good and not good. Take the “shame” factor out of the discussion and tell me that a child exposing herself on the internet is a “good” decision? There are endless consequences for bad decisions. None of them deserve shaming. So how do you communicate the importance of making the right decision and the detriments of wrong decisions?

        My, now grown kids know and knew that there was nothing that they could do where they would lose my love. It’s unconditional love that doesn’t go away. That being said, they also knew there was expected moral behavior. THEY rose to the challenge and expectation. In my house, there was no gray areas when it came to morals.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Thank you so much for your input, Steve. We do appreciate hearing from you!

  10. Honestly, caring for your body and having value in it is not a bad thing. I agree with you there. Your body was created to not be a shameful thing. However, exposing the body was meant to happen in a marriage with someone you love. The moment that anyone, especially a 13 yr old, does it it will undoubtedly be shameful because it is being used out of the context it was created. No amount of reassurance from a mom, or friends, or a dad, will take the shame away. As a parent, it is more important to raise your child than to be their friend. Sure, children need to know they are loved and have love poured on them, but a parent that is more concerned for their child receiving that love over a protection and discipline that should come with parenting too is a dangerous thing. It, like many things in life, is a balance.

    • “However, exposing the body was meant to happen in a marriage with someone you love.”

      Larissa, you must realize that’s YOUR value system and not everyone will agree with you, i.e. me.

      If my daughter does expose herself publicly one day, the discipline will be the same as every other kind we dole out in our house: a heart-to-heart that last hours, hugs, tears, and follow-ups.

      Sure, I’d love to be Emma’s friend, but my goal is to love her, to teach her self-love and compassion, and to keep her safe. Teaching love doesn’t put friendship over parenting.

    • I’ve flashed my “jewels” as someone called it on webcam, I didn’t feel shame. Why would I feel shame?

  11. Jack Jones says:

    Some cultures would have women dress head to toe in a veil, in which case the same argument about showing a bare arm applies to showing your breast, or any other part of your body. The problem is solely down to slut-shaming, or as many people would properly call it, bullying. They are the ones causing the harm.

    It is a nonsense to suggest that flashing is bad because their are pedophiles out there. By the same argument, we shouldn’t go out side with our iPhones because there are thieves out there, or walk down the street because there are people with alcohol problems out there. Conversely, you can be fully clothed and attract the eye of a criminal.

  12. Shannon,
    You tacked a really tough issue and I commend you for your courage. Most people would never have touched this subject and made themselves as vulnerable like you did.
    I appreciate and admire your honesty when you said “I don’t know, kid. I might not have this all right…..”
    I wish you and Emma all the best.
    Frank

  13. I really like this letter. Well done.
    With my children I also try to get them to think about the consequences a bit more. Try to prevent hurt & shame.

  14. Madeira says:

    As a woman who has flashed her boobs to literally thousands of people (on stage, Steel Panther concert) and to a lot of bands (I’m a happily married, ex-groupie who runs her own small business and bought her first house at 23) I can say this is great advice. I’ll teach my kids not to flash their boobs before their 18 (legal reasons) but after that, eh, go for it if you want to. Frankly I find the sexualization of breasts infuriating, my chest is not “naughtier” than a man’s, as well I’m also just sick of the fact that we treat women as somehow shocking if we somehow realize that, yes they are indeed naked under their clothes AMAZING.

    I also want my kids to realize that sexiness is generally a tool you use to get sex, not an end in itself. I enjoy being sexy, because I enjoy the sexual attention of my husband, but I’m sexy because I’m sexual. I hope my children focus on working out what and who they want before they focus on being sexy, so that they can target their sexiness to get them the sex they want (and I want my future children to have healthy, happy sex lives, whatever that means for them as individuals)

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