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Calling the President's Bluff About Tattoos for Malia and Sasha

ObamaTattoo

photo courtesy of Ginnerobot at Flickr

I’m typically a supporter of President Obama’s policies, and I think he and Michelle are fabulous parents. But I’m not a fan of his recent comments about his daughters and the family’s tattoo domestic policy.

President Obama told the Today Show:

Michelle and I have used the strategy when it comes to things like tattoos what we’ve said to the girls, “If you guys ever decide you’re going to get a tattoo, then mommy and me will get the same exact tattoo in the same place. And we’ll go on YouTube and show it off as a family tattoo. And our thinking is that might dissuade them from thinking that somehow that’s a good way to rebel.

Which is seriously funny on the surface. It so very 80s sitcom, sort of Cosby meets Alex P. Keaton’s parents, that it is charming and adorable.

On the surface, I find myself rooting for this sort of gimmick to fail. Although who knows if either girl would ever be interested in ink, I desperately hope that if one does want body art when she’s old enough, that she’ll go for it and call his bluff.

I’d love to see a retro skull and crossbones on those famous FLOTUS biceps. A grand rainbow leading to a pot of gold, or a Golden Eagle tramp stamp on POTUS would be epic.

I’m officially on Tats of the United States — TATOTUS — watch.

More importantly though, I just want those girls to have what every girl (and boy) deserves: autonomy over their own bodies. Empowerment to own decisions about her body without any worry of ridicule or control.

So while it was a cute story on the surface, I really dislike the President’s remarks about tattoos on his daughters. I hate it that in sharing this scheme of discipline-through-humiliation, humorous as it is, the Obamas gave voice to one of the worst parenting mistakes controlling parents make.

Parents do not own their children’s bodies.  The only reason children rebel with their bodies is to break attempts at that control.

I get the important idea behind the tactic, that by dissolving rebellion as a reason, parents hope their children will use critical thinking when deciding about risky behaviors like smoking or drinking, or permanent decisions made capriciuosly, like early tattoos. Some parents take this idea to a different extreme, by giving their children alcohol in the home, for example, so that it is not the forbidden fruit that causes reckless pursuit. Guiding my teens on the topics of sex, drugs, drinking and other choices has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Addressing missteps has been harrowing, but I’ve never resorted to social media and I never will, not even as a preemptive threat.

Social media as the new stockade or Scarlet A for teen humiliation makes me queasy. It’s interesting, and should be unsettling, to note that we usually see girls’ subjected to this type of humiliation and control.

The idea of threatening a YouTube humiliation seems gross to me. Too very much like the horrible YouTube and Facebook humiliation used as part of punishments we’ve seen, including when we saw a father who beat his daughter with a cable for twerking and another time when a father shot his daughter’s laptop in a bravado-filled video.

I’m not saying that threatening to copy their tattoos and reveal them to the world is the same thing as corporal punishment. But I do I feel really uncomfortable hearing a parent, any parent, even/most especially the President of the United States, talk about private discussions about a girl’s body while on television. Talk to your daughters about tattoos, tell them why you hope they make certain choices, give them the full reach of your guidance, wisdom and restrictions as minors. And then affirm that their bodies are their own, forever, and that you will defend their rights to that autonomy against any force, forever.

But don’t go on television and promise the public how you will humiliate your daughters if they choose to get inked. Don’t joke that you’d mock them on YouTube as some sort of backward deterrent. Something just isn’t right about that.  The Obamas have done a great job in general at creating privacy for their daughters, and in doing so have modeled some really good things for parents, so I’d hate to see them start down a different path now.

POTUS tattoos, though, like a fabulous flag-waving astronaut dancing on a presidential full moon somewhere or another? I’m all for that, if Mr. President decides to do that to his own body and show it to us.

Check out some of my other posts on Babble Voices: 

5 Ways to Stand Up Against Domestic Violence

Parents as Gender Warriors

Gay Marry Me: We’re on the Right Side of History

Coming Out with Anderson and Megan

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