I Own My Body/My Self

Chalk art speech bubble with text "Let's talk about healthy sexuality"This week the Talk early, talk often series continues on the SAAM Blog with a guest post from Kenya Fairley, MSEd., advocate and coordinator of the National Domestic Violence Awareness Project

What is the greatest lesson you learned growing up that supported healthy development?
I think of my mother as the first reproductive rights advocate in my life. She taught my sister and I to own our bodies and that each of us were solely responsible for caring for it. Reflecting back on that now, I see what a valuable lesson that was to learn growing up. 
As a teenager, I remember my mother sitting with my sister and I to discuss our bodies and what it means to “be a woman.” Mostly this consisted of discussing how to manage our menstrual cycles and informing us of how not to become pregnant. One thing I remember the most about some of those talks was my mother sharing a book with us about women’s bodies that we were expected to read and learn from as we grew into our “womanhood.” I don’t quite remember the name of it now, but this book was thick like an encyclopedia with lots of pictures of how our bodies would develop and what our reproductive organs looked like. Thus we were offered two valid and critical perspectives: one based on lived experience and the other on what we expect to be true about women’s bodies.
In my work with teenage girls at sleep-away camps and with young women residing in domestic violence shelters, I’ve seen many young girls that did not know much about how their bodies functioned or how to care for their bodies. Some had not been taught basic hygiene routines and some had learned bad habits (such as douching) that were difficult to discontinue. Some young women were not given permission or empowered to speak ownership over what does and does not happen to their bodies—at the doctor’s office for, instance, or when sharing residential space with other girls and women. 
It’s important that we have ongoing conversations with young girls and with other trusted women in our lives about our experiences loving our bodies, embracing our bodies, not being ashamed of our bodies, and living a healthy lifestyle to ensure that our bodies can sustain us. Each girl’s body is unique and different, and each girl should be encouraged to make decisions about what her body experiences. 
Last year, Jada Pinkett Smith shared the following on Facebook, after receiving harsh critique of letting her 12-year old daughter Willow shave her head:

For many, “letting” a 12-year make decisions about her hair or other body image choices is a radical idea. Let us know what you think in the comments.

·        What was your first experience of owning your body?

·        When do you first remember becoming a woman and discussing your sexuality?

·        Do you still practice some daily hygiene routines you learned growing up? Why or why not?

·        Did you have a celebration/ritual when you first began your menstrual cycle? How did that impact your relationship to your body as you matured?

Kenya Fairley has been an advocate to end domestic and sexual violence against women and girls for over 13 years. As Program Director of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Kenya oversees the technical assistance, training, and resource development components of the organization. She also coordinates the National Domestic Violence Awareness Project, which creates a forum for a diverse group of professional advocates from national organizations and culturally specific institutes to provide input on issues of national importance; those emerging issues and ideas are then converted into resource tools and materials for use by advocates and allies.