You know how movie trailers for big dramatic blockbusters always highlight scariness by starting with "In a world..."? Like some gravelly voiced narrator saying, "In a world where freedom is a legend..." or, "In a world where enormous telekinetic bugs are our overlords..."? Well I'm going to follow suit by assuring you: In a world where body shaming is as common as seeing a Starbucks less than a block from another Starbucks, it is hard out there for a feminist.
I have met zero women and very few men who haven't experienced body shaming at some point in their lives, largely because it's cyclical. And, as with many of the worst and most vicious cycles, it often starts and perpetuates within families. A parent is not the only voice a child will hear in their lifetime, but they're often one of the loudest. Even an off-handed comment that we forget as soon as the words leave our lips can stay with a child, for better or for worse, for the rest of their lives.
Feminism and body positivity are two philosophies that go hand-in hand, so it makes sense that feminist mothers would be sensitive and mindful about how they speak to their children about bodies in general, but especially about their children's bodies in particular.
To wit, I have included a list of 10 things I would never, as a feminist, allow myself to say to my children and why. All are, unfortunately, things I have heard, either directly or from friends' recounting their own childhoods.
"Do You Really Want To Eat That?"
Translation: "I disapprove of what you are eating, almost certainly because I worry it's going to make you physically unattractive by making you gain weight, or I think you're physically unattractive now and your decision to eat this food is representative of the bad decisions I think you make in general, so I'm going to mask my judgment as concern for well-being all while crushing your spirits because I know you know what I really mean, even though I'll deny it."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because once someone is deemed responsible enough to make their own choices about what they eat they do not require your judgment. Food does not have moral value, and we don't want to indicate that it does.
"[Negative Physical Attribute]s Run In Our Family."
Translation: "I am tremendously self-conscious about [x part of my body], probably because I was taught to be, either by society at large or my own parent, and I don't want to be alone in that self-consciousness, so I am subconsciously going to try to make you self-conscious about this genetic similarity (or perceived similarity) as well. We all know that there is one acceptable kind of body, and [x part] of my/your/our body is an unacceptable deviation from the ideal."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because we don't believe there is an ideal body out there or that deviations from a perceived ideal are anything to be ashamed of. That's not to say we don't have things we're self-conscious about, but we know that self-consciousness almost certainly doesn't come from our own heads but rather was learned over time, and we don't want to push that onto our kids.
"You Can't Wear That."
Translation: "Dressing for your body is practically the 11th Commandment, and flouting that law is madness. We say dress for your body is meant to uplift the person wearing the clothes, but really we just don't want to make other people uncomfortable with our choices."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because wear whatever the hell you want and forget what anyone else has to say about it.
"We Should Go On A Diet Together."
Translation: "I think you're fat and that you should go on a diet, but I'll pretend this is a fun bonding experience and that I'm concerned for our health."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because there are a lot more wonderful ways to bond with your child than worrying about your "flaws" together and perpetuating a cycle of unhealthy relationships with food and negative body image.
"Don't You Want To Look Nice?"
Translation: "You look like crap. Fix it."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because we trust that our kids are dressing in a way that makes them happy and that's more important than whether their style complies with our aesthetic preferences. Also, no one is required to look "nice."
"That's For Boys/Girls."
Translation: "Deviation from very specific gender norms scare me and also make me worry you might be gay, which is the Second Worst Thing You Can Be."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because there are no boy things or girl things, only the things you choose for yourself and then they're just "your things."
"You Don't Want To Get Fat, Do You?"
Translation 1: "You're fat, and I know you know that, and I know you know I know that, but I'm going to pretend like I think you're not and that this will inspire you to lose weight."
Translation 2: "Fat is the absolute Worst Thing You Can Be outside of a fascist dictator."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because fat is not a dirty word.
"Boys/Girls Like It When..."
Translation: "You should always be primarily concerned about what the opposite gender (and only the opposite gender; we've been over that already) thinks about you because functioning as a sex object is #LivingYourBestLife."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because you should be living/dressing/eating in a way that satisfies your needs, not attempting to do any of that to satisfy someone else's.
Translation: "I have really weird hang-ups about sex and the idea of someone enjoying sexual pleasure makes me massively uncomfortable."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because everyone should be free to enjoy and explore their own sexuality without worrying about judgement from society, least of all their loved ones.
"Look At How [Positive Descriptor] [Friend/Sibling/Cousin] Looks!"
Translation: "Maybe if I show you precisely what I am looking for in a human specimen by embarrassing you in front of this person, you will conform to my standard of beauty for you."
Why feminist moms refuse to say it: Because feminists know beauty standards are crap and they are no interested in pitting people against each other. That's just not how we roll.