The past few days have reaffirmed that, in the eyes of the general public, and the mass media, a woman’s body is not hers to own, as Michelle Solomons so eloquently states it here. It belongs to the world at large, and anybody who can steal images of it, by means legal or illegal, should be judged far less harshly than the foolish woman who had the temerity to believe that storing images in her personal cloud account meant that she did not consent to their use by all and sundry.
I’ve always tried to raise my daughter to be unashamed of her body, whilst at the same time being fully aware that it is HERS and that nobody has the right to tell her what to do with it.
That’s a fairly delicate balancing act. I often wonder whether we have done it right, but yesterday, I realised we had.
A little while ago, the kidlet was asked to participate in a fashion shoot for one of our major retailer’s spring fashion launch. Entranced with the possibility of earning money which had three zeros attached, and confident that this was going to launch her onto the platform of stardom, she was eager to participate. Her mother, whilst outwardly supportive, was inwardly hesitant, because *insert various feminist phrases decrying the patriarchy, sexism and body shaming of the fashion industry*.
In any event, I’ve always said that I can’t expect her to believe that she has control over her body if I try to control it, so the decision was left to her. Yesterday, off she went to the show. It was, without a doubt, an unmitigated disaster from our perspective, although I’m fairly sure that the retailer was oblivious to it : all of the bodies they had paid for paraded around in their clothing, and it was none of their concern what went on behind the scenes.
Aside from some flagrant breaches of the laws relating to child labour (yes, child modelling is child labour), for instance, failing to provide adequate refreshment, a safe place to play, or a child minder, what really inspired this post is what happened when the children had to change into their outfits.
There was no change room provided, they were expected to change outdoors. Worse, the boys and girls were told that they had to change together, in an area where adults could walk through at any time. Apparently, because adult models change in unisex facilities, it was considered acceptable to flout the basic principles of child safety and the tenets of the Sexual Offences Act when it came to children. Apparently, the organisers forgot that an adult has the capacity to consent, children do not. That is why we have laws which protect children.
The organisers got a little more than they bargained on this time. My daughter, all 5’2″ and eleven years old of her, refused, and told the adult-in-charge that, under no circumstances, was she getting undressed in public, in front of boys and with strangers. She then went behind a bush (because, yes, that’s clearly all THIS major retailer could afford to provide) and got changed. A few of the other, older girls, followed her lead.
Now, this is not about modesty. This is not about her feeling ashamed of her naked body. This is about her being uncomfortable in her surroundings and having the balls to express that and to demand that her feelings be respected. It takes guts to stand up to an adult. No matter who you are, it takes guts to stand up to an employer. It takes guts to do that alone, when everyone else is toeing the line (becuase if you act out, you’ll “never be hired again”). It takes enormous courage, personal integrity and, most of all, it takes the knowledge that her parents will have her back, 100%.
She then went out and performed professionally, despite all the previous drama. Afterwards, she confronted the organiser on the absence of proper refreshment and stood up for herself when the organiser accused her of lying. Again, that takes guts.
I’m unbelievably proud of her. She stood up for what she knew to be right. She knows that it will cost her any chance she may have had to earn money modelling again, but, as she said : if nobody tells them that they’re wrong, they’ll do it again to the next child. That kind of personal integrity is something you seldom see in adults, let alone children.
This probably will have very little impact on the fashion industry, but perhaps it may. Perhaps the bravery of one little girl will stand out against an industry which believes that a pay check equals the licence to own your body.