“But what will they feel when they hit their teens and have to grapple with wanting things that they’ve been taught only bad girls want?”
I was fortunate, as a girl growing into a woman, in one fundamental way that set me apart from the others. My mother didn’t teach me about “bad girls”. My beautiful, wonderful, forever-blessed mother never shamed me about my body or said anything to cause shame. Sex wasn’t taboo, especially as I knew the mechanics by the age of nine and had picked up a romance novel habit aged ten or eleven.
It could be a German thing, or it could be an our-family thing. We were bawdy bitches, tasteful but still able to embrace ourselves fully as human with all that implies about sex. Mum was outraged when, in elementary school, I caught flak for running around with my (completely flat) chest bared. I wanted to play with the water-bomb toy and not get wet! Why shouldn’t I doff my shirt if I didn’t have breasts?
(But of course a woman is sexualised before she knows what she is and what her body means.)
So while my mother may have found my short skirts in bad taste and wondered where I’d wear them, I don’t remember her shaming me for being a sexual creature. Just objecting to the very shortest skirts, on the grounds that one might well get a glimpse of my underwear if I lurched in the wrong direction. It was still up to me who saw my underwear.
And underwear I had, oh yes. Underwear, from the age of sixteen onward (or thereabouts) meant Christmas and birthday thongs from my aunt. Instead of shaking her head and scolding her sister, my mother cooed with me over the fun new world I was entering. Lacy and naughty or cotton and utilitarian, a thong was an underpinning, no more and no less. Goodbye VPL, and if it peeked out, well, a lot of them were cute. We’d already survived the black bra under white shirt stage, hadn’t we?
I experienced more shame from other girls than I ever did from my mother.
I wore my sexuality in the open. I wasn’t ashamed of my junior year long-distance love affair with a girl who shared fandoms with me. I had a person to love me and text me and obsess over pretty men with me! We were kids being kids. I had fun with makeup and tarted myself up for Masterminds meets, because sometimes the theme was ladies of the night. Come on, I only just threw out a tube of something we nicknamed “blowjob red” when I was fifteen.
So the girls who called me a stripper because, until I was twelve, I didn’t know it was shameful to change bathing suits in the open? They were the ones who drove me into cubicles thereafter: get there early, dive into a stall, and don’t come out again until every inch is covered. And the girls who decided I was wearing too much lipstick when really I was trying to get the color just right, well, I might’ve given a toss about them if not for my overriding adoration of all things schmink.
(In the interest of transparency, if I’m wearing a shade of lipstick that isn’t my everyday brownish-coral, it’s probably Chanel or Dior. Same aunt who’s responsible for the thongs.)
And I remember my mother being put out with the ones who told me to shave my legs aged ten. My mother, my staunch defender, she may have been responsible for teaching me how not to be ashamed of myself. If we quarreled over religion, at least she understood that Christians and Pagans alike needed to embrace their bodies (I don’t think the concept of trans* had ever occurred to her, though she had known a military pair who married so they could share a wardrobe). Without a blogosphere or, for that matter, a parenting guide, she got it so right. She just said, and I am paraphrasing here, “you do you, girl.”
And I did. And the people who decided that wasn’t valid have long since learned to stuff it up their — ahem.