I genuinely value having candid conversations with my five-year-old daughter. I relish that she feels able to talk openly with me about anything, and I have hopes that we can retain that quality of our relationship always. These days I find that many of our frank conversations take place in the outhouse where she appreciates having company as she concentrates on the matter at hand. There is a feeling of privacy and intimacy of being together in the outhouse that often is reflected in the different subject matters we speak about while there.
I recall one such time last summer when she looked up at me with a serious and somewhat concerned face and asked, “Mommy, how come my yoni doesn’t stick out as far as Clover’s does? Is there something wrong with mine?”
For a moment I was taken aback. Clover is my daughter’s best friend and close neighbor of about the same age. They consider themselves to be “sister friends” and have known each other their whole lives. During the course of being naked together while swimming or playing in the hot weather, my daughter noticed that the glans, or tip, of Clover’s clitoris and the hood covering it stuck out farther than her own, and that was what she was referring to when she so matter-of-factly asked me that question.
I took the opportunity to reassure her that there were all kinds of shapes and sizes to “normal” and to talk a little about human bodies. It also gave me a moment to reflect on exactly how awesome it is that I live in a place where my daughter routinely sees a variety of naked people in a completely non-sexual setting whenever we go swimming at the pond. I cherish that she knows examples of people of varying proportions. I can say to her that some females have big yonis and some have small, that vulvas come in different shapes. I remind her that of the people she knows, some have large breasts, large hips, large noses, others have small breasts, etc., and all is normal. Some males have large penises or small or fat or skinny, some have small testicles or big testicles. Some males are circumcised and others are not. And in our community setting, where these kids are exposed to nudity and it is no big deal, it really sinks in for them on an almost unconscious level that every shape and size is normal. Not only that, just the fact that they do see a fairly large selection of human bodies provides so much information to them about the world they live in and how they themselves fit into the picture.
How healthy this aspect of intentional community upbringing seems in juxtaposition with my own and that of mainstream culture, where the majority of the nude or semi-naked bodies we are exposed to are on the pages of magazines, airbrushed to “perfection,” or in movies or even television commercials where nudity is nearly always linked to sex and only the top-tier human specimens are ever put on display for us to see. All the while we are encouraged to strive to achieve this body type, which for most of us would be completely unnatural, and we wind up feeling miserable in the process and acutely aware of our blemishes and imperfections. How much better it is in my opinion to see how unselfconscious these community kids are about their nakedness. One might say “They’ll grow out of it,” but I think not. If they are never taught to find shame in the human body then there will be none.
I felt triggered recently by an off-hand comment made by a relative of my daughter. Passing through the area on their way home from a wedding, her paternal grandparents stopped by for a few hours’ visit. My daughter knew they were coming, and she patiently sat in the parking area for 20 minutes waiting for them to arrive. She was hot by the time they made their way down the hill to her dad’s house and my daughter immediately stripped to the buff and launched herself into the pond. Her grandmother turned to me and quietly commented, “Well, she’s not fat.”
I understood that this was intended as a compliment and calmly responded, “She is a healthy little girl.” However, inside myself I reeled in amazement that upon seeing her granddaughter’s body this was the first thing that popped to mind to say. And yet, why is that surprising? Given the societal messages pounded into our heads from all angles about how bodies “should” be shaped, and given that most of us live in such a looksist culture where a person’s worth is tied to how her physical beauty measures up, why would I be surprised to hear that a five-year-old is already being judged and compared to how she might rate according to a standard norm of beauty?
Meanwhile I applaud my daughter’s happy abandon as she splashes in the shallows. She understands modesty and that certain times and places call for being covered up. She is comfortable in her skin and has no bodily shame that I’m aware of. She has seen bodies of old and young alike, and she does not judge the people inside the bodies based on their external looks. She knows that we are all unique and that no body has any reason to hide from the light of day down at the pond.