As someone who has struggled with body image, feeling like I should lose weight when I would aggressively compare myself to other girls my age (and svelte models in Diet Pepsi commercials), I had to work very hard to break the cycle of hating my appearance. But I wasn’t born with negative feelings about my body. Those were learned. So wen I had kids, I swore they weren’t going to develop that same negative attitude, and I have put consistent effort into finding ways to make my kids body positive. I knew there were always going to be outside forces that conspire against their confidence, such as unrealistic depictions of human bodies in the media, so it was important that my husband and I build a solid foundation about what it means to be body positive.
This meant tossing the “dress guidelines” their public school sends home every year when the weather gets warmer. It basically reads like a list of things girls can’t wear to protect boys from being distracted by exposed skin. On the hit list are items like spaghetti straps, shorts and skirts that don’t come down to fingertip length, and tank tops. Since these items are mostly worn by female-identifying children, I find it totally irresponsible to put the burden entirely on girls, and their parents, to police their wardrobe as an attempt to protect them from boys who can’t keep their hands to themselves, or teachers who would be distracted (I can’t even with that). My kids’ school and school bus are not air-conditioned, so I will allow my children to wear whatever they need to in order to be comfortable. I agree with the school’s policy of no open-toed shoes, since that can lead to injuries on the playground. But on a 90-degree day, my daughter shouldn’t have to think twice about wearing a tank top that fully covers her torso and is clean.
Beyond the notion of feeling good about their bodies because of how they are dressed, is the idea that their bodies themselves should be celebrated. Their shape and size are no indicators of the humor and intelligence and curiosity my children possess. I know what it’s like to hold yourself back because you think everyone is scrutinizing your appearance when your jeans feel too tight, and I don’t want them ever to hide in the shadows of shame.
My kids both favor comfortable, stretchy clothes they can move around in easily. They naturally don’t want their bodies to be hindered in any way. To perpetuate this organic body positivity, I follow these rules in our house. I hope it will make a difference when they graduate into their teens, when being self-conscious is part of the deal.