Welcome to your latest installment of thought-provoking questions kids ask me. When kids ask, it’s usually genuine surprise – they actually do not realize that most people grow hair all over their bodies. Why would they? If their only models of adolescent/adult cis-gender women are people who remove all the visible hair other than what’s on their scalp, how would they know? I was lucky to be raised by women who discussed body changes openly and honestly with me since I was very young, but I imagine it’s a surprise to many children when they begin to grow body hair, the way it is a surprise to some young people when they start menstruating. The interesting thing to me is that kids do not tend to see it as something bad, just sometimes interesting if it’s outside of their experience. “Why do you have hair,” a non-judgemental genuine question of curiosity, is related to but different from the question I get asked by older people. Why is the default to ask “Why don’t you shave,” when no one ever asks “Why do you?”
Four-year-old: [looking up from Lego helicopter] What are those dots on your face?
Me: They’re called acne. I’m not sick. They’re just part of my skin. Most people get some pimples when they become teenagers, and a lot of people, like me, have them as adults too. They come and go.
Four-year-old: They look icky.
Me: Sometimes they feel icky on my face, too, and other times they feel fine. Sometimes I even forget they’re there.
Four-year-old: But I don’t have them.
Me: I know, not yet. You’ll probably get some when you’re a teenager, but you may not. Not everyone does.
Four-year-old: [silence as he plays with Lego set]
Four-year-old: [suddenly reaches toward my face]
Me: Please stop and wait. Were you wanting to feel the dots on my face?
Me: Okay. That’s fine with me. It’s just important to always ask before you touch someone’s body. Can you try asking, “May I please touch the dots on your face?”
Four-year-old: May I please touch the dots on your face?
Me: Sure! I don’t mind. Just please be gentle. Thanks for asking.
Four-year-old: [feels gently, wrinkles nose] Ew. [pulls hand away, smiling]
Me: Yeah, they’re kind of funny sometimes. It’s okay to feel them because I said it’s okay. When you want to touch someone’s body, you just have to ask first if it’s okay. Only if they say “yes,” then it’s okay. If they say “no,” it’s not okay and it’s really important that you respect that. I said yes, so it’s okay.
Four-year-old: [feels my face one more time in interest, then goes back to Legos]
I have a variation on this conversation pretty often. I hope the message gets through. Also. I find it really interesting that it is so, so much easier for me to be body positive around young kids. Most of the time, I’m super self-conscious about my acne (which has been particularly strong for aroung twelve years or so), and really hate it. And then I hate that I hate it, and I feel like a bad feminist, because I know it’s just part of my body that I can’t control, and it doesn’t inherently make me ugly, and I shouldn’t cover myself up, and blah di dah all of that that’s easy to say and difficult to feel. And then I tell myself my feelings are valid anyway. And then I get into a big argument with myself and just end up putting on some basic concealer to go to work and forget about it. Somehow, with four-year-olds, that whole self-conscious narrative just melts away. I’m just me. And they’re just them. And that’s okay. Wow.