One of S’s all-time favorite things to wear is a pastel green choli we bought last Diwali.
It is a beautiful dress, and she looks lovely in it.
And because she likes it, she wanted to wear it, to normal life events. Like the park, playing on the road, and so on. And there weren’t many social events last year, so it felt like a good idea to stay in the moment and watch her enjoy the dress before she outgrew it.
She calls this dress “tummy showing”. Now, remember that she is all four years old when this story happened, probably a few months ago.
She suddenly stopped wearing her favorite dress. I didn’t think much of it. Today being the last day of the community Navaratri celebrations, the girls wanted to go. We don’t tell them what to wear, all nine of these days they choose what to wear, and this year they chose not to wear Indian clothes.
And today S brought out her favorite pastel green choli and asked me for help to wear it. She is five at this point. I was helping her with the skirt and she said, Mummy, I don't want it to be tummy showing anymore, so can you tie it higher?
I asked her why. She was quite reluctant to share this with me, she was “shy” and I saw shame in her eyes. After a bit of asking gently, she said she changed her mind about the tummy showing.
I asked her what happened. She shared with me that her five-year-old friend told her not to wear tummy-showing dresses. And to cover her tummy. She then stopped wearing this dress.
Now context is, she was not inside a temple or whatever while this happened. It happened at the park, or outside people’s homes where a bunch of under ten-year-olds were playing. A neutral space that was neither S’s nor her friend’s.
I told her that she can absolutely wear whatever she wants, and if people shame her that is bullying, and she can tell them “It’s my body, my choice”. I also suggested she can tell her friend to feel free not to look at her if they don't like it.
Then she wore that dress the way she liked it, was super happy that she had choices, and there was nothing to be ashamed of, and the girls were on their way.
Now it is not my place to get in between kids' conversations. So empowering my child to hold her own is all I can do. This story would have ended there and I would not have made a post about it. But here is the deal - But when a five year AND her forty-something dad body-shame a four-year-old on separate occasions that now becomes my problem.
Here are some further questions. Now, if this man is shaming my four-year-old,
what does he think of that
sixteen-year-old girl in shorts?
Because here is the truth - You cannot moral police girls' bodies without inherently sexualizing said bodies.
Your affiliation to a political ideology or religion/caste whatever isn’t an issue at all until patriarchal pseudo-liberal fucktards begin moral policing and sexualizing my four-year-old’s body.
And the saddest part is how this power play and peer pressure affect young girls. The five-year-old body shaming and moral policing the four-year-old caused enough damage that the four-year-old thought “tummy showing” was shameful. (Congrats saffron brigade. Creating five-year-old female patriarchs is quite a feat!
Women are socialized to fit in at a very early age. To exhibit group behaviors, and follow the herd. Shame is the currency. So what’s really going to happen tomorrow? Drugs, risky behaviors just to fit in? How about eating disorders to “look thin”?
How about the pressure to throw up after a meal?
It all starts with body shaming. Today it is “tummy showing”, tomorrow it's about her hair. Which, like mine, is “Kuruvi Koodu” (birds nest, I have shamed for it all my life).
And the day after it is about the size, and color of her skin. And putting toxic bleach on the skin, to “fit in”.
This is exactly how the process starts. What you wear, what you wear underneath what you wear, and what it means when you do and don’t.
Today I would rather teach my girls to say NO, especially to adults. That if the cost of being “good girls” and “belonging” is being body-shamed to fit in, then it is not worth it. And that they can go through life throwing back shame to where it truly belongs - in the male gaze, in the actions of adult females who shame, not internalize, and carry it in their bodies for a lifetime.