It’s important to teach children to celebrate all types of bodies — especially their own.
By Erin Wetherell
“It’s so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn’t love you back. So I want to take this opportunity right now to just feel good…because you deserve to feel good…we all deserve to feel good!”
That was singer Lizzo speaking at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Lizzo — whose musical style includes rap mixed with flute solos — is part of a growing movement of cultural icons who are dedicated to celebrating all types of bodies, especially ones that don’t fit into our society’s narrow ideas of what bodies should look like. Lizzo — or plus-sized supermodel Ashley Graham or ultra-runner Mirna Valerio — are all examples of strong, powerful women who are carving out space for women and girls of every body type.
While posting sticky notes with positive messages on them on your bathroom mirror may be a cliché, I have a small one affixed to mine that says “You are all the good things.” It is important to not let our bodies define our self-worth, and I firmly believe that this is something that takes nurturing and practice and should start when children are young.
When I see people around me — who I respect and admire — shrink to the back and act bashful when a picture is about to be taken, I am reminded again that the powerful influences around us teach us that unless our bodies look a certain way, we don’t deserve to be photographed. But as Maya Angelou so powerfully reminds us, “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When we look at pictures of people we love — and who love us — we aren’t going to remember anything but those feelings. And that is why we have to help not only each other, but also our children as they grow up and develop.
As with anything else, small actions add up, and healthy ways of thinking start at a young age. Here are a few ways to help girls and boys celebrate the bodies they’ve been blessed with:
- Do a gratitude exercise, listing all the positive things your body does for you. This might take some prompting for a child, but remind them that their body allows them to do all the things they love. This list is different for every body, of course, but it can include playing exploring, learning, giving hugs, receiving hugs, holding hands, blowing bubbles, reading books, climbing mountains…the list is endless! Our bodies let us be in this world, and that deserves to be celebrated.
- Surround kids with different types of media that depict a wide range of people. For young children, a personal favorite is Todd Parr’s brightly-colored board books. For pre-teen girls, New Moon magazine. For teens of any gender, encourage them to watch the documentary “Miss Representation” and have an open discussion afterwards with caregivers, teachers and friends.
- Encourage kids to be active. Praise children for making healthy choices and for moving their bodies. There are many reasons why organized sports might not be a good fit for a child, but yoga could be perfect. A doctor once told me, “The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing.”
- Talk to children about what they are seeing online, through social media and on television and in movies. Point to musical artists like Grammy-award winner Alicia Keys who are regularly going make-up free — and still have incredibly successful careers.
- Don’t shame kids for their weight. A recent NPR article reported that fat shaming and commenting about your child’s weight can actually have the opposite effect and there is “virtually no evidence that it works.”
- Don’t let kids hear you say “Jordan is tall for her age” or “Aiden is short for his age,” or any comment that starts with a reference to their bodies. Kids grow at different rates.
- Even avoid well-intentioned jokes about kids’ eating habits, such as “He can really pack it away!” or “What a picky eater!”
- Model healthy habits for your child. We all know that kids are absorbing what adults do more than what adults say. This includes eating meals as a family. Before taking care of others, it’s important to take care of yourself. Practice what you preach: love and respect your body so your children (and others around you) can see that it is perfectly natural doing the same.
- Encourage kids and don’t let the accomplishments of others diminish their own ability. Someone will always be faster or stronger, but that is not a reason to not try a new activity or take away enjoyment from something that brings you joy.
In the end, it’s important for children to know that every body is a good body.
Erin Wetherell lives in East Thetford, Vt.