Queen of her Kingdom - the importance of body sovereignty for our girls


A twelve-year-old girl goes to a big co-gender school. Her body is changing; she is growing taller, she has started growing breasts, she doesn’t always feel herself. It feels hard for her to find the right words, the right questions to explain what she is going through. She watches videos on TikTok and has just opened a Snapchat account. She sees that lots of the people on these platforms, and her peers at school adopt a certain style. She tries it out, styling her hair, trying out makeup, and records herself doing dance moves. She wants to fit in, be part of the in-crowd—that’s what seems to get the likes.


The boys and girls in her class talk about each other. Crushes are rife. “Jay told Amy he likes you.” “Don’t tell anyone, but I really like Riley.” “Don’t you think Ben is hot?”


She hears stories about the girls in the years above her going to parties and ‘hooking up’ with guys. She doesn’t really know what this means, but it sounds glamourous, exciting, grown-up. Boys and girls flirt on the bus. There is a boy she likes. With nervousness, she sets the ball in motion and she confides with her bf. Her bf tells another friend and soon the boy knows about the crush. They start to talk via messages on Snap. One night, he sends her a message. He wants a pic of her breasts. She blushes and feels icky but she also feels a little boost—he must like her. But she’s not sure about sending a nude selfie. Her heart is beating too hard, It doesn’t feel right. She couldn’t imagine what her parents would say. She says ‘no’. He asks her again and she says ‘no. But the boy pleads and comes on strong. He swears he’ll not show it to anyone. She knows other girls have done it. She does want him to like her, but she feels uncomfortable. He begs her. He tells her everyone does it. She looks at herself in the mirror. Everyone does it, right? She lifts up her t-shirt and holds her phone towards the mirror…


As I grew up into a young woman, one of my biggest fears in the world was being attacked or raped. As a parent, my biggest fear for my daughter is that she is sexually assaulted or coerced into doing something she does not want to do. And these fears are valid. Statistics show that one out of every three females and one in every 20 males will fall victim to unwanted sexual contact by their 18th birthday and usually by someone they know. I believe a large part of countering this is to teach both my son and my daughter that they are responsible for their actions. They not only have ownership over their bodies, the right to draw boundaries, but to respect others’ own sovereignty.


Body sovereignty (or body autonomy) and consent are phrases that are heard more and more frequently these days. But what do they mean? ‘Sovereign’ is a title that can be applied to the highest leader, the ruler. Though the word is originally derived from the Latin for superānus meaning ‘above’, I like to break it down to ‘reign over’. Body sovereignty is then the right to reign or rule over your body.


In the past, consent has seemed to relate mainly to matters of consensual sex. But body sovereignty goes further. Having body sovereignty means we have total control of what we do with our bodies from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. And teaching our youngsters these boundaries means they are less likely to become a statistic of sexual abuse or assault.


In the past, consent has seemed to relate mainly to matters of consensual sex. But body sovereignty goes further. Having body sovereignty means we have total control of what we do with our bodies from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. And teaching our youngsters these boundaries means they are less likely to become a statistic of sexual abuse or assault.

Every day we, and worse our impressionable children, get bombarded with messages. We are so entrenched in societal norms that it’s hard to see them, let alone question them. But it is important to challenge these messages and get our children to question what society deems healthy.

What if a child doesn’t want to kiss Grandma, be tickled by a sibling, or even have a doctor listen to their chest? What if a teenager doesn’t want to send an inappropriate selfie, or hug a friend, or even shave her legs? What if a young woman does not want to kiss a boy or have sex or dress a certain way? What if a grown woman does not want to sleep with her partner one night or accept the doctor’s advice or dye her hair because society says she should?



How can we teach our children (and ourselves) about body sovereignty? How can we ensure that they tune in to how they feel and challenge what their cultural environment deems normal?


Firstly, have the conversations. We can start when our children are young with the clear and simple message ‘my body, my choice’. Obviously, with very young children, parents sometimes have to force a child to go in a car seat or wear a jumper because we are keeping our children warm and safe, and this is a tricky line to walk.

Modelling consent is also powerful. Ask permission before wiping a face or brushing hair and respect that if they say 'no'. This is teaching them about explicit verbal consent and showing them it’s OK to set boundaries. Likewise, get them to ask you for permission before they jump on your back or climb on your lap. It doesn’t have to be a serious business either. You can bring lightness and joy into your no's. Having the conversation with grandparents or family members is worth the discomfort when it means you are giving your child a passport to autonomy.

Teaching children about their body and the appropriate words for their anatomy gives them knowledge, clarity and enables them to communicate accurately. Using safewords is a great way to let your child alert you if she’s not enjoying a tickling game or rough and tumble with a sibling.


Finally, ensuring our children love and value themselves means they will treat themselves with respect and demand it from others. They can be strong in their no's and know how to articulate them.


Nurturing their self-esteem and self-confidence is like arming them with an invisible shield.




Wild, Wise and Worthy Mentoring Circles run a circle that addresses body sovereignty in our ‘Queen of her Kingdom’ workshop. We explore the wonder of our bodies and how to look after them physically, mentally and emotionally. We look at the concept of body image in our society and the messages it sends. We get the girls to tune into their bodies and show them how to put boundaries in place and say ‘no’.


So get your girl a crown, pop it on her head and grant her sovereignty over her kingdom. It’s the greatest security you could ever provide her.



For more information, watch this great TedX talk by Monica Rivera:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvGyo1NrzTY

Other great links:

https://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/body-sovereignty-and-consent/

https://www.rchsd.org/2019/12/seven-steps-to-teaching-children-body-autonomy/

https://www.3knd.org.au/post/why-raising-girls-who-like-themselves-could-protect-them-from-harm