Figure 1: Face Paint & Family Fun, Picture  by Selena Carlson-Hagstrom

9, YES! Nine fantastic offspring between me and the hubster – we adore each of them along with our new absolutely perfect granddaughter. I’ve spent a lot of years as a parent and working with youths affected by domestic violence, in Title One schools, after school drama programs, summer school, Religious Education teacher, and as agroup facilitator. As a parent I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy their bodies immensely, from feeding, moving, playing and expressing their sense of self through hair, clothing and age-appropriate body modification such as ear piercing. As a caregiver and volunteer who has worked with youth, I have seen first hand the value of bodylore as self-expression and I hope you will as well.

While I have no idea what I will do after I graduate aside from continuing to parent and volunteer I know that my continued education will serve me and the populations I work with. I believe bodylore has a place both outside and inside academia, research in every field imaginable but those our blog entries for other folx to write. The business of parenthood is where I spend my days and nights and what I want to talk to you about. While bodylore isn’t limited to academia, it is entrenched in multiple aspects of parenting. Parents with an understanding of bodylore may have an easier time navigating what could be tricky spots with their children. So what is bodylore and why should parents, grandparents, professionals, and volunteers that work with children and teens care about it? Well according to our website “Bodylore is an intersectional and interdisciplinary approach to studying the literal embodiment of self. Coined in 1989 by Katharine Young for an American Folklore Society annual meeting, bodylore centers the body as a locus of cultural interpretation. The tools of bodylore unpack how the body is used in communication, culture, social meaning, and identity. When viewed as its own “cultural scene” or “text,” the body exists in the intersections of sex, gender, sexuality, and many other identities.

What does that mean for your average person? Our bodies act as a canvas of personal and social expression; it can be seen as a form of shorthand communication. Parents can raise empowered, resilient children when there is a focus on the celebration, movement, and cycles of our bodies alongside safety for and validation of their expression. That positive example can create a sense of peace and wellbeing as well as increase confidence in children and teens. Countering the tomes of negative body images and hyper-sexualization of bodies is a parenting challenge in and of itself. Being aware of norms surrounding bodies and the constant stream of negative messaging can open the door to meaningful conversations about how a child wishes to assimilate or contrast social, religious or cultural norms. When parents and caregivers are open to self-expression while supporting their child’s individuality everything from mealtime, bath time and dressing for the day can be a little gentler, no matter how old they are. As our children grow their needs will shift. Beginning early with choices about clothing can present the opportunity to teach decision making. They only want to wear their favorite outfit every day? This provides the opportunity to teach them how to do laundry and the value of planning ahead. When they age out of the favorite shirt phase and become even more conscious of their sense of style, having talks about peer pressure and budgets naturally segue from your previous conversations. As each stage is reached you can build on previous conversations to include budget, finances, the environmental impact of fast fashion, chemical services and products, food choices, fitness and health. When it’s time for hairstyles, hair colors, makeup, nail polish, piercings, and even tattoos teaching them to research the products and service providers can lead them to a lifetime of thoughtful well-informed decisions. Being a supportive parent informed of bodylore impact and holding space for these seemingly small conversations in their toddler years and decisions will leave the door open later for bigger decisions as they grow into teens and young adults. I’m very well aware of the privilege my family has in their ability to safely express themselves. What I hope is that every race, gender, sexual orientation, and religious expression has or will have the same level of safety around their bodies and subsequently their utilization of bodylore as it pertains to them and their family. Below are links to additional resources on supporting expressive children.

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Selena Carlson-Hagstrom is a 44 year old junior at ODU, double majoring in Women’s Studies and Theatre. As a dog mom of 3 and human mom of 4, step mom of 5 and Nana to the most perfect granddaughter ever, healthy doses of humor serve her well in her daily life. She has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up or if she wants to grow up. In the meantime she is honing her craft as a creative person bridging advocacy and activism with comedy to open hearts and minds to difficult topics of conversations. While she is occasionally funny, at least in her mind, she is more often very kind, compassionate with a dash of foul mouthed honesty. If you’d like some erratic content from her elsewhere check out Tea With Selena on Facebook or Instagram where you may get an annual post about something or another.