When Is a Girl’s Body Her Own?

This week, even more than other weeks recently, I have read articles and tweets about girls’ bodies being policed by their parents and their coaches.

It started with a tweet about T.I., a famous rapper and actor, who shared on a podcast that he goes with his 18-year-old daughter to her yearly gyn appointment to ensure that she is still a virgin. He asks the doctor to give him this report, saying, “Give me back my results expeditiously.” His report. His report about her body. He bullies his daughter into signing a form that he can be present for this appointment and that he is entitled to this information. After all, it is his report.

I am not an expert on T.I.’s life. From what I understand, his younger son talks about his sex life on reality TV and T.I. laughs it off. So just to clarify: younger SON having sex? Fodder for TV. Older DAUGHTER? Talks about her virginity checks on a podcast.

The first abuse is the act of doing this. The second one is telling literally everyone about it. Where does this end? Does he plan to check her sheets on her wedding night like she married the King of England in the 1600s?!

To be clear, we have been policing women’s bodies since the beginning of time.

Today the first story I read and watched was about Mary Cain. Mary is a talented young runner who joined Nike under the coaching of Alberto Salazar.

I am a not-so-talented, not-so-young runner. But I love the sport. One of my favorite days on the running calendar is the 5th Avenue Mile in NYC. I gather every year with my teammates and my partner to run and then cheer. We cheer for the tiny kids toddling along, the Mercury runners in the 80-plus age group, and the pros.

In 2014, I was standing near the finish line, right across from Central Park. A young girl, maybe around 8 or 9, and her father came up next to me to cheer. I overheard them talking about the race and her excitement about seeing the pro women. Most of us wait to see Jenny Simpson defend her title. She looked up at me, a sister in sport, and said, “I am here to see Mary Cain, she runs with bows in her hair like I do.” I don’t remember my response, but I remember feeling so happy that this young girl could see herself in a shero, a fellow runner.

I thought of that girl today when I heard Mary share her story of physical and emotional abuse by her coach, by her team, by her sport. Mary shared about being punished and shamed for a perceived weight gain. Normal fluctuations in weight that are not scientifically linked to decreased performance. So much so, that she did not have her period for three years and she broke several bones. She was suicidal. She cut herself. The amazing runner, the shero with bows in her hair, thought about killing herself because her male coach, an unethical coach with a history of abusing women, was policing her body and abusing her.

This has to stop.

Girls should have complete autonomy over their bodies. They should not have to hug anyone they don’t want to, not even a relative. Adults can get over their hurt feelings of “This girl doesn’t love me.” She loves you, she just loves herself more. As she should.

Girls should be able to ask for, and receive privacy in bathrooms and bedrooms.

They should not have to ask for period products with fear of being shamed.

Girls should be able to go to their gynecologist for a checkup and have privacy. Privacy to ask important questions about their health without feeling judged. Privacy to disclose abuse.

Girls should be able to run free. Without being whistled at or yelled at that they look great or terrible. Without fear of being followed, hunted, or stalked. They should be able to run without worrying that they are too fat or too skinny. Their weight should not be monitored because they do not look like a runner.

This has to stop.

I promise to fight for you. I promise to hand you the mic to tell your stories. I promise to share and retweet. I promise to write and counsel and research.

All my, my, my, my armor comes from you.

You make me try, try, try, try harder.

Oh, that’s all I ever do, ever do.

Oh, no no, my, my, my, my armor comes from you.

You make me stronger, stronger.

Hand me my armor.

— Sara Bareilles, “Armor”

HAND ME MY ARMOR.

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Erin Lynn Nau, LCSW

Feminist. Social Worker. Researcher. I am a PhD candidate whose research focuses on self-worth and early adolescent girls. www.erinlnau.com