by STRONG Magazine for Girls
Did you know that YOU are very POWERFUL? Well, you are! You have the power to protect and care for your BODY!
Okay, I know that might sound a bit silly, but it’s true and it’s also incredibly important. From the time you are able to keep your body safe, clean, and healthy—you are in charge of your own body. Now...don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you should run out and get piercings or tattoos. Things like that require parent/guardian discussion and permission. But I am talking about your RIGHTS to keeping your body safe, clean, and healthy.
STAYING HEALTHY AND CLEAN
Keeping your body clean and healthy are probably the easiest two pieces of protecting your body. It is important to pay close attention to your body’s changing needs. Regular showers are a must! In addition, teeth brushing, using deodorant, and making sure your clothes are clean and free of odors are all great ways to keep your body clean. Being healthy includes getting the right amount of sleep, eating proteins, vegetables, and fruits, and getting adequate exercise.
Keeping yourself clean and healthy are important aspects of protecting your body. But you also have the power to keep your body safe!
Some obvious ways of keeping your body safe include wearing a helmet when you ride your bike, wearing sports gear when you’re playing a sport, or wearing a seatbelt in the car.
You also need to keep your body safe from other people. This means understanding what your personal space looks like, what boundaries you want to set with people around you and making sure you understand the meaning of consent.
Let’s start with personal space. The amount of personal space people need differs. Some people are very touchy-feely people, and some aren’t. The thing that remains the same is that personal space, no matter how big or small it is for you, needs to be RESPECTED by others. Part of keeping your body safe is identifying what your personal space boundary is and then making it clear to others when you feel they are invading that space. You don’t have to be rude or hurt anybody’s feelings. But it can quite simply be saying to the person “You’re just a little bit too close to me. Would you mind moving over a bit?” or “I’m not really a hugger.”
The idea of telling someone else they’re in your personal space, especially if they’re an adult and you’re not, can be intimidating. But think about it, if you were giving someone a hug and it was making them feel uncomfortable, you would want them to tell you so you could stop. It’s understandable that as an adolescent female you may feel uncomfortable speaking up. But remember, you have the power to protect your body, and if you’re not comfortable, you should say something.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!
Practice using your voice at home. Parents, siblings, and extended family can be the first people that you start to talk to and set boundaries with. Maybe your sister always sits up too close to you on the couch, or your mom gives you squeezy hugs that you sometimes want to escape from. It’s okay that you feel that way. Practice letting them know by saying things like “Mom, I’m not in the mood to be hugged right now.” This can help you feel more comfortable when you need to speak up outside the home. If you don’t feel comfortable practicing this at home, ask a trusted teacher or friend. The more you stand up for your right to protect your body and the space around it, the easier it will be going forward!
If somebody wants to touch or be close to you, even if it’s to give you a hug when you’re having a bad day, they need to ask you for your consent.
Consent means that you have given the person permission to touch you or be in your space. Without consent, no one EVER has the right to touch or be in your personal space if you don’t want them to.
Let’s use the example of having a bad day at school. Imagine if a male friend of yours came up to you, and, after noticing that you were visibly upset, he asked for your consent so that he could give you a hug and make you feel better. If in that moment you said yes and gave him consent, then it would be okay for him to give you that hug. If you said no though, that you did not need a hug, it would NOT be okay for him to ignore your wishes and hug you, because he did not have your permission or your consent.
I want to reiterate that if somebody does not have consent to touch you or be in your personal space is not okay and you have every right, no matter what they say, to tell them no. You also have a right to get away from them and tell a trusted adult about what happened. Remember, you always have the right to keep your body safe.
CONSENT IS LIMITED AND SPECIFIC
Here’s another thing about consent, it is very limited and specific. Let’s talk about that male friend wanting to give you a hug again. If you said yes, and gave your friend consent for the hug, you were only giving it in that moment for that specific interaction. This does not give your friend blanket permission to hug you whenever he wants! It’s okay to say yes to a hug one day and no the next. You DO NOT owe anybody access to your personal space or your body just because you gave them consent at one point in time.
It’s important to know that anyone who tries to use their power, status, or their age to convince you that they have a right to be in your personal space or to touch you, is lying to you.
YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS THE POWER to make those decisions when it comes to your body!
You may or may not have heard about the #metoo movement. This movement is a worldwide endeavor to help women who have been the victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault, come together in solidarity so that people feel less alone and so that the world can see the magnitude of this problem.
Many women feel unsafe and have been put in situations where they’ve experienced someone blatantly disregarding their refusal to give consent to that person entering their personal space or touching them. I hope that with this movement which has gained momentum recently, young girls and women will understand that we can set new expectations when it comes it how women are treated. YOU HAVE THE POWER, YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR BODY. The more you as young women understand that and stand up to anyone who says differently, the better chance those around you will understand and will respect women’s personal space and their bodies.
WHAT IS SEXUAL HARRASSMENT?
Sexual harrassment can be a problem for adolescents. It’s not just a problem for girls, boys can be sexually harrassed as well. If people are bullying you, which means they are engaging in behaviour that is designed to hurt you, and those comments are of a sexual nature, it’s considered sexual harrassment.
The comments may include references to your appearance, body parts, sexuality and sexual activity. They do not have to be to your face. They can be made via text messgage, or as a post on social media. Examples of sexual harrassment include:
- Spreading rumors about a person of a sexual nature.
- Commenting on your body parts or appearance.
- Making inappropriate jokes that make you feel uncomfortable.
- Showing you inappropriate photos or videos.
- Posting comments of a sexual nature on social media about you.
- Repeatedly asking you out when you have said no.
- Brushing up against you or attempting to touch your body in a sexual way without your consent.
Sexual harrassment can make people feel scared and threatened. It is not acceptable. If you or a friend have experienced or are experiencing any form of sexual harrassment, you should talk to a trusted adult.