Our Nude Bodies: How Do I Protect My Daughter?


“If anyone ever touches your private parts, you hit them,” I told her. I’m sure she wondered why her mama was reversing the usual “do not hit” rule.

My daughter’s cheeks are still soft with baby chub, though her body has lengthened. I stare at her four-year-old arms and legs sprawled out on the bottom bunk as she sleeps. How do I protect her? What do I say to prevent her from climbing into the laps of strange men and wrapping her trusting arms around them? How do I set her on guard without terrifying her?

We use the proper names for genitalia and I explain to her where the babies come out.

“An opening,” I once told my naïve fourth grade boy student when my belly swelled with my first child.

“The baby comes out of an opening … ask your parents for more details.”

One of my children strode into the room completely naked yesterday as my husband and I were talking. Somehow we got on the subject of where the baby comes out and she announced that she wants one … now.

“Go, put your clothes on!” we laughed, shaking our heads. Now that I’m a parent, we talk about all of it—well, all that’s age appropriate.

I hope to ward off shame before it swerves in. But last week as I combed knots out of my daughter’s wispy hair she ducked below the bathroom counter.

“I don’t want to see myself,” she wailed. “I look yucky with all those lumps in my hair.”

My six-year-old son has never said this about himself, but my daughter already hates the mirror.

How do I protect her?

“You’re beautiful,” I tell her. “You’re strong and smart and tell incredible stories. Plus, your wavy hair is wonderful because you’ll be able to make it straight or curly.”

She glowered at her image while I smoothed the bumps with water, sliding the comb from front to back through her thin hair. Her scalp is strong from the daily practice. My son yelps with pain anytime I attempt to comb his curly tangles. The result is two dreadlocks I silently snipped off when I cut his hair. Even at four, my daughter is fierce from scalp to toe.

A friend recently told me about her counseling session where she hadn’t planned to discuss her mother. But the therapist excelled at her job. “Next time, we’re going to talk about your relationship with your mother,” she said after the first visit. My friend glared at her.

“No. We’re not,” she seethed.

But she gave in and was surprised with one of the first strange questions about her mother: “Do you remember your mother ever brushing your hair?” The questioning unearthed a tenuous mother-daughter relationship.

How do I protect my daughter?

A. and I shared a room at my parents’ house a few weeks ago when we were there without my husband. I’ve been dressing behind locked doors since the kids were old enough to retain memories of their naked mother in their adult minds. I hoped to spare them. But as A. and I dressed for the day, it seemed silly to change in the bathroom. I forced myself to undress in front of her, allowing her to see all my stretches and sags. She stared, and said, “It’s okay for us to see each other’s private parts, right?”

“Yes,” I said, trying to act nonchalant. “This time it’s okay because I’m your mommy. But it’s only okay for parents and sometimes for the doctor to see your private parts.”

She was the first Eve, still naked without shame—and unaware that my being naked in front of her ushered me out of my ring of comfort. I’ve never been the woman who waltzes naked in the locker room of the park district pool, preferring a curtain to public displays of nudity. Nakedness does not come easily to me. And while I will probably not be doing this when my daughter’s a teenager, I want her to know that bodies are natural, and that blemishes and bulges are normal.

How do we protect our daughters? We build confidence into them day by day, by ordinary day. These thousand untold battles turn back the dark. We brush their hair. We talk about our bodies. If we dare, let them see the unphotoshopped body of the woman they love and trust the most in this world. And we give them permission to hit and kick, shriek and spit whenever the lines of privacy are crossed.

Before we put on our clothes, we turned to the giant mirror on the closet door. Reflecting back to us was my naked adult body that’s birthed three babies and her tiny girl body with a whole life of love and pain, wounds and scars ahead of it. And then we danced naked in the morning light and fought the shame demons with our song.