One of my favorite quotes of all time is this: "If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business." These are the words of Dr. Gail Dines, and although in general I have not-a-small-amount of disagreement and quibbles with her work, I think she really knocks it out of the park with this particular thought. And we don't just have to apply this to women either; men and boys are not immune to poor body image and self-esteem issues, which are no doubt fueling the perpetual motion of many industries too.
When it comes to a child's self-esteem, it's usually not a single defining moment that ruins their confidence in one fell swoop. More often, it's death by a thousand cuts. As such, building a child up (and, in moments when they are faced with one really awful instance of adversity, building a child back up) is not a one-and-done, inspiring Friday Night Lights style speech. (I'd follow you into Hell, Coach Taylor. Into Hell.) Rather, feminist parents will have to be as incessant and, frankly, subliminal in promoting body love as the myriad industries that are built on a foundation of insecurity are in making us hate ourselves. But how, you ask. How?! Well, I'll tell you...
Exercise Is Healthy Fun
Exercise isn't a necessary component in one's chosen beauty regimen. Feminists want their kids to know that exercise is play! Running around, jump rope, sports, dance... These are ways to enjoy ourselves, not a means to fit into an arbitrarily sized pair of pants.
Your Body Doesn't Exclude You From Enjoying Particular Activities
Just because you don't have a "ballerina body" doesn't mean you can't love the hell out of dancing ballet. You don't have to have 16-inch biceps to play football. Sure, there are activities that often require certain physical features to participate at a professional level. But for now, kids should focus on building a love of their chosen activity rather than worrying about their precise measurements and caloric intake. In their early years, they should just take joy in what their body is doing.
Fashion Is Fun
There are no "boy clothes" or "girl clothes." There are no distinction between clothes for fat girls and clothes for skinny girls. There are clothes. Once you put them on your body, they are your clothes. You have fun with that, kiddo: The world is your sartorial oyster.
Compliment What Bodies Do, Not What They Look Like
I don't think anyone has a problem with being considered good-looking. That's fine. But when looks are the only thing we compliment in our kids they're going to see attractiveness as their bodies' foremost value. So let them know how strong, athletic, nimble, and talented they are!
Sometimes It's OK To Compliment Their Bodies
Because it's nice to feel pretty! (Just make sure they know it's nice and not required or the most important.)
Take Their Side If They Are Ever Body Shamed
Our children will love their bodies more if they know we do not consider their body in any way to be fair game for ridicule or unfair discrimination. Whether they're faced with a bully or an unjust dress code, let them know you support them.
Model The Idea That Beauty Comes In All Shapes, Sizes, And Colors
The media will show our children a very narrow definition of beauty: overwhelmingly young, white, thin; hourglass shaped for women and v-shaped for men. Let's fill in the gaps for them by countering the mainstream with images and examples of all kinds of beauty in books, TV, toys, movies, etc.
Teach About Inappropriate Touch
Our children should know their bodies are wonderful and capable and above and beyond all else, theirs and theirs alone. So we need to let them know early on what constitutes inappropriate touch, that inappropriate touch is not their fault, and if it ever happens they need to tell us and they will be believed.
Love Our Own Bodies (Or Fake It Until We Do)
It's amazing how much children learn about how to think about themselves based on how we treat ourselves. Respect and honor your body and don't shy away from allowing your children to see that. Avoid putting yourself down in front of your child, because seeing you pick yourself apart will show them that's something they should be doing, too.
Promote Sex Positivity
You don't have to get into the messy complicated details of sex to teach your children to be sex positive, but you can set them up for knowing early on that sex is not dirty and that they're not wicked for any curiosity or interest they may have. Sex positivity is all about safety and respect, two things that will help kids love and value their bodies.
No One's Opinion Of You Is Nearly As Important As Your Own
Listen to Jaime Lannister, yo. Dude knows what he's talking about.