Some things are obviously not cool. Catcalling 11-year-old girls? (Or anyone?) Not cool. Teaching girls that fat is the opposite of pretty? Not cool. But what about “lovingly” teasing your girl about her body?
Some people have a hard time with this one, insisting it’s absolutely acceptable—especially within the family—to tease about the shape of a girl’s tush, the size of her chest, her height, or her figure in general. But they seriously need a wakeup call. We’re not saying anyone has meant any harm or has had bad intentions while kidding around like this. What we are saying is that these actions can cause harm and lead to lifelong issues related to self-esteem, confidence, body image, and emotional development. Basically, these jokes are the opposite of harmless.
Still, we’ve all heard the excuses, so let’s break them down (and then throw them in the trash, where they belong).
BAD REASON #1: “But she laughs along! Everyone’s having fun. It’s fine.”
If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve likely laughed or smiled your way through a situation that made you uncomfortable or nervous because you didn’t know what else to do or didn’t want to cause a scene and seem rude. There’s a good chance this is what your girl is doing when faced with jokes about her body. Yikes.
BAD REASON #2: “I put up with jokes like this when I was a teenager! Everybody’s too sensitive these days.”
Just because something was seen as acceptable among certain groups when you or your girl’s grandparents were young doesn’t mean it was right. We, as a society, are working to become better, kinder, and more welcoming to all people all the time. Keeping your lips zipped about her body is one very simple way you can help.
BAD REASON #3: “It’s just her brother teasing her. Boys will be boys!”
No, no, no. Don’t insult your son’s emotional intelligence or sensitivity. We need to start expecting more from boys. They are just as capable of being kind, respectful, and polite as girls, and it’s time to stop giving them a free pass for bad behavior. Allowing this kind of teasing in your family is setting your girl up to expect lousy treatment from boys and men in her life, while teaching your boy that degrading women and girls is completely acceptable. Essentially, you’ll be doing everyone a favor when you nip this one in the bud.
BAD REASON #4: “It’s just her sister teasing her! You know how girls are.”
Oof. While it’s true that sisters aren’t always going to get along, girls already get enough flack about their bodies from society and don’t need more of it from their sisters. If you notice one of your girls making jokes about the other’s body, pull her aside and ask her privately why she does it. Perhaps she’s feeling insecure about her own body or jealous of the way her sister looks. There’s even a chance that kids at school are making comments about her or her sister’s body and that she’s just parroting them to fit in or make herself feel cooler. At any rate, let her know that just like it’s not OK to joke about other things people can’t control—like the color of their skin or the accent they have—it’s never OK to joke about their body.
BAD REASON #5: “But I don’t mean any harm!”
Intentions and actions are two very different things. Just because you don’t mean harm doesn’t mean the things you say aren’t hurtful. If you think jokes about bodies are so funny, go ahead and tell them about your own body, that’s your right—but leave other people out of it.
Tackle the topic of offensive, objectifying language and behavior with kids.