Moms are often the focus of most conversations about body positivity and parenting, for understandable reasons. As women, we are more likely to be targeted by body shaming messages, and we often have more work to do to overcome negative conditioning about our weight, our appearance, and other aspects of life as it pertains to our bodies, so we don't pass those struggles to our kids. Still, there are ways that dads can teach their kids about body positivity, too, and it's critical that dads be a part of this conversation.
For starters, men are also targeted with ableist, fatphobic, and other unrealistic expectations for their bodies. Body image is an issue for men and boys, even if they aren't as frequently or explicitly oppressed based solely upon their appearance. More importantly, given their privilege as a result of their gender, they also have disproportionate social power to determine how others — including their children — feel about and experience life within their own bodies.
I, and so many people I know (particularly women), can point to specific ways that our relationships with our bodies have been deeply affected by how our dads talked to and around us about our own and the bodies of others. Whether it was mealtime comments about how our eating habits were affecting our weight and shape, or watching our dads comment on which celebrities and public figures they considered attractive, or hearing their conversations with other men where they commented on others’ appearance, many of us have vivid memories of the ways in which our fathers taught us troubling things about how the rest of the world viewed people like us.
Dads are so important in their kids lives, so it's very important that they understand how to use their influence to help their kids develop a body positive outlook, and to help create a more body positive world for their kids to live and grow up in.
By Talking About Themselves In A Body Positive Way
Just like it's problematic when moms shame their own bodies, it's problematic when dads do it, too. By avoiding making negative comments about themselves and focusing on what's good about their own bodies, dads can demonstrate what it looks like to regard your own body with respect.
By Giving Compliments About Things Other Than Appearance
By praising kids for what they think, how they treat others, and other things their kids do, they help their kids understand that they have value beyond what they look like. This can be especially important for daughters, who are more likely to be given compliments (or not) about their appearance than anything else, and who subsequently learn the damaging lesson that what they look like is the most important thing about them.
By Praising What Bodies Can Do
When dads give compliments about skills their kids are developing, or other positive messages about how kids use their bodies, they help them understand that bodies don't just exist to be looked at. They exist to help us do worthwhile things in the world.
By Praising A Variety Of Things About Appearance When They Do Talk About Appearance
It can be OK to compliment bodies and appearance, as long as these aren't the only compliments a parent gives. When dads talk about different things — like what they like about a child’s style, or the proud way they carry themselves, or how their smile lights up a room — they help kids understand that there is more than one way to be beautiful and get positive attention.
By Being Mindful About How They Talk About Food
How parents talk to kids about food can be so powerful. Talking about which foods, and how much food, help their kids feel their best promotes body positivity, while warning them that eating certain things or eating “too much” tells them that certain bodies are to be avoided and despised.
By Being Mindful About The Media They Consume
Unfortunately, a lot of the media targeted at men is incredibly sexist and body shaming. When dads read magazines with sexist depictions of a specific type of women, or only watch shows and movies that only feature people with certain body types while making a joke of others, they reinforce those messages for their kids and teach them that those are the kinds of bodies their dad values (by extension, that most other men value).
By Openly Questioning How Other Men Talk About Bodies
Over the course of their lives, there will be plenty of social events and other occasions where men will be gathered around talking while their kids are around. Challenging other men when they say something shaming (or sexist or otherwise problematic, for that matter) in earshot of the kids is another way they can teach their kids to be body positive, and model what it looks like to respectfully challenge our friends when they say something harmful.
By Being Careful With How They Talk About Kids’ Clothing
This goes double for talking with daughters, especially as their bodies change and they begin going through puberty. Comments that focus on how clothes feel, what kinds of activities they do or don't work, and how they fit with the child’s personal style for are great. But talking about whether something is “flattering” for a child’s body type, or whether a child looks “appropriate” or “respectable” within it are shaming.
By Questioning Negative Messages They See In Books And Other Media With Kids
Unfortunately, many books, movies, and TV shows still include multiple kinds of body shaming and other negativity. When that happens, dads who take a moment to wonder aloud why the creator chose to say that, and voice their disagreement. Honestly, just a few moments of open dialogue can help their kids learn to question those kinds of messages, too.
By Saying Body Positive Things To Their Partners
Once again, leading by example is everything. By saying body positive things (and giving body positive compliments) to their partners, dads show their kids that lots of different kinds of bodies can be lovable.