I’ve talked in other posts about how to to help a kid who is being fat shamed. But perhaps even more heartbreaking is when you hear a kid fat shaming themselves. Reader Lindsey sent me the following:
Last night at Target my daughter wanted a new swimsuit. She wanted a 2-piece but had a certain look in mind. I told her we should try them on to make sure they fit how she wanted and if it was comfortable. We headed out to the dressing room and on the way, she says in passing, my middle is my thickest part and all of the girls I see on tv and magazines are thin. Right away my heart was crushed. I told her she didn’t have to wear something she didn’t want to and everyone has different bodies. She came out of the dressing room in a bikini and was holding her tummy in. I said, don’t hold your tummy in, you look great! How does the suit feel? She decided she liked it but still tried on another suit which was a tankini. She liked that one too. I asked which she was more comfortable in and she said she liked both the same. I asked her if someone teased her or said something stupid to her would she feel bad and not want the bikini anymore. She said she doesn’t listen or care what others say. THIS, warmed my heart. We ended up purchasing both in case one day she wanted more or less coverage. I HATE that my 9 yr old little girl thinks about this. I HATE my 9 yr old little girl has to be reminded of this in the media and everywhere else on a daily basis. Do you have any tips to handle situations like this or books that are about positive body image etc? Thank you so much for reading and for your time.
I’m so sorry that this little girl has to live in a thin-obsessed world without diverse representation in the media, but I’m also glad that she is in a place where she doesn’t have to care what people thinks, and that she has a mother who is on top of this. For far too many kids this isn’t the case (with the average girl going on her first, but certainly not last, diet at age 8.) So how can we support kids who have internalized our cultures thin obsession and turned it in on themselves?
We can start by modeling. One of the difficult things about our culture is that today’s parents (and especially mothers) were raised to hate ourselves. So we have parents who have issues with body image and self-esteem trying to raise kids who don’t have those same issues, in the same culture that created those issues in the first place. That’s really difficult. So consider working on your own body image and self-esteem, and in the meantime be mindful of what you say in front of kids. Kids believe what you do more than what you say, so if you spend a bunch of time engaged in negative talk about your own body, and then tell your kid that their body is beautiful just as it is, they’re more likely to believe the messages they are getting from the former than the latter.
We can also have conversations about this early and often. We can start to inoculate kids against a culture that profits from their body hatred by pointing it out early and often. Talk to them about the ways that companies create marketing specifically to make them feel badly about themselves so that they buy their products, ask them if they think it’s ok. Ask them what they think they can do about it. Encourage them to start a “Body Positivity Club” at their school (or maybe a book club with body positive books) Throw an “I Love My Body” party for your kid and their friends.
Be honest – explain the concepts of oppression, and privilege and activism in an age-appropriate way. Yes, in our society people who look a certain way may be treated better, and if you think that’s wrong you can fight to end it. You can also talk about weight and health – explain that there are some people who may want the best for them, but they are unfortunately ill-informed about the truth about the diversity of body sizes that exist and how health works (maybe start with the story of Galileo.) You can also bridge this lesson to talk about other types of oppression – racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism et al, areas where they have privilege and how they can use that privilege to help (age-appropriate intersectionality FTW!)
Teach kids to be grateful for what their body does, not just how it looks. Challenging the standards of beauty is a good thing to do, but you can help kids by helping them have gratitude for what their bodies do. You can teach them to think of their bodies as friends, and then if they talk badly about their body (or if others do) you can ask them if they would talk about (or allow someone to talk about) their friends like that.
Consider creating spaces that are specifically body positive – with no negative body talk allowed. Maybe it’s the dinner table, or when you’re talking before bedtime. Consider creating a mantra that you use when you are watching tv or movies (or driving by billboards, or flipping through magazines) to help kids deal with the ceaseless messages of body hate that they get. Maybe it’s something like “My body is awesome just as it is” or maybe it’s “Nobody talks bad about my body.”
Remember that you’re going to have to reinforce this lesson a lot because the diet and beauty industries aim for quantity – trying to get to our kids as early and often as possible to make them loyal body haters/customers for life.
If you have other ideas I would love for you to leave them in the comments!
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