Do you teach your child to treat her body like a scapegoat, or like a treasured friend?
In the first post of this blog, I shared the story of Emily, the little girl who said, “My body is my best friend!” Emily’s relationship with her body inspired me to break open the vault of my self-hatred and turn the lead into gold. Kids can teach us a lot about loving our bodies… how to roll down grassy hills, cannonball into a lake, jump for joy, and spin until we fall over. How to have fun in our bodies for the grass-stained, muddy-kneed delight of it.
Most kids are already experts at how to enjoy and love their kid bodies. What they learn from us is how adults relate to their bodies. Here are the top five things kids learn about bodies from the adults in their lives:
1. Never compliment your own body. In fact, put your body down every time you look at it. Never miss an opportunity to criticize your body in front of other people.
2. If an item of clothing looks bad on you, it’s your body’s fault. If you’re in a bad mood, it’s probably your body’s fault too. If you didn’t get a date last week, or the job you wanted, you guessed it, it’s your body’s fault. Any time you’re pissed off about anything, it’s probably because your body is sabotaging you.
3. It’s okay to make fun of fat people, because it’s not okay to be fat.
4. It’s fine to talk about how your friend needs to go on a diet behind their back, or even to their face.
5. Exercise should be difficult, painful, and hard to force yourself to do. You should force yourself to do it anyway, and feel bad about yourself if you don’t.
I know, a lot of these are cringe-worthy, and you could swear you’ve never done any of them in front of a child. But you know how kids are; they’re sponges. They soak up every comment muttered under your breath in front of a mirror, every overheard conversation about someone’s “weight problem,” every time we smile and nod at a fat joke instead of calling people on it. Kids are natural imitators. Every gesture, movement, and facial expression you make in their presence gets filed away in their brains under the heading, “This Is How Adults Act.” They will try out everything in that file at least once on their way to figuring out what kind of adult they’re going to be. You don’t even have to write these rules up and post them on the fridge: almost every girl knows these rules by heart by the time she’s twelve (if not much earlier), and every boy by at least fourteen.
The good news is you can change the rules.
Here’s what you do:
1. Compliment yourself out loud in front of the mirror everyday. Some days your kid will overhear you and think you’re nuts. But slowly the message will sink in… it’s okay to appreciate your body.
2. Compliment your child’s body, physical ability, appearance. Your hair looks great today. Your handstand is amazing. Your body is so strong!
3. Never-ever-ever criticize your body in front of anyone else, especially not your child. In fact, get out of the habit of criticizing your body, even in your own head. Your body is not a scapegoat for whatever is wrong today. If a swimsuit looks crappy on you, it’s the swimsuit’s fault… not your body’s. Address the true causes of feeling bad instead of blaming it on your weight or size.
4. Don’t make fat jokes. Don’t laugh at fat jokes. You probably don’t tell racist or homophobic jokes and you sure don’t teach your kids to laugh at them. Being fat is a natural part of human diversity. Read nutritionist Linda Bacon’s book, Health At Every Size to understand the function and myths about fat in our lives.
5. Respect other people’s bodies. Don’t make weight and dieting a topic of conversation. Aren’t there more important things to talk about? World peace? Organ donation? How to survive the impending zombie apocalypse? (By the way, it’s fine to make fun of zombies.)
6. Have fun exercising! Let your child see you having fun exercising. Do exercise you love, and while it’s fine to complain (a little) about aches and pains, emphasize how much you enjoy dancing, swimming, biking, skiing, hiking, skating, surfing, hula-hooping, whatever your body loves to do.
7. You don’t have to tell your child, “I love my body and you should love yours too.” Instead, live it! Let your whole life reflect the love and appreciation you have for your body and your child will soak it up like a sponge in a bubble bath.
Live in your body the way you want your child to live in theirs. Treat your body with love and your child will learn… this is how adults treat their bodies.
Love Your Body Blog Part 63