The body positive movement has gained visibility in recent years to the delight of feminists everywhere. It has, necessarily, focused on the relationship between body positivity and women and girls. Girls develop negative body image at increasingly younger ages and women suffer eating disorders at higher rates than men. Women's bodily autonomy is legislated against. In short: the female body is still, in 2016, a liability. Body positivity (often at the intersection of feminism, civil rights, and sex positivity) seeks to change that. But where in that conversation is there room for our sons?
Pretty much everywhere.
Not only do boys and men benefit from body positivity tremendously, and not only do they benefit from self-affirmation (because they face so many of the same social pressures as our daughters), but there are innumerable places where they will be able to learn, grow, and work hand-in-hand with women and girls to fight the crap unique to the female experience. This is not an exclusive conversation. A great thing about body positivity is that while it may be more regularly aimed at female bodies (who, let's be honest, are up against more), it is largely composed of completely gender neutral concepts.
So, I write this to my 4-year-old son and to all the boys out there who can benefit from learning that all bodies are good bodies.
The Painted Abs And Muscles On Your Superhero T-Shirts Are Bullsh*t
Look! It's your favorite shirt. I mean, it's a shirt that makes you look like Superman and it has a cape on the back — what's not to love? Well, personally, I question the painted-on muscles. You're a pre-schooler and if you actually had muscles like that, you'd probably have some sort of pituitary problem. It's just silly at best, and at worst, starts giving you the idea that super unrealistic, sculpted abs are an aesthetic ideal. Yes, there are non-muscled options out there, but boy's clothing with muscles or costumes with foam muscles sewn in are becoming increasingly common and that gives me a case of the side-eyes. I'm sure you will be shocked — shocked — to learn that I have never seen muscles painted-on girl's clothing. Anyway, I want you to know, early on, that this is ridiculous.
Bodies Do Not Exist For Other People's Amusement
The human form is a fearfully and wonderfully made; a naturally developed, magnificent work of art. We have been drawing and sculpting ourselves for thousands of years. It is right and proper that you should take pleasure in the bodies of other people, visually, physically (like a hug or a kiss) or (as you get older) sexually. But neither your nor anyone else's happiness is the point of other people's bodies. So nobody owes it to anyone else to look a certain way or do certain things. Anything you want to do to or with your body is up to you. Anything someone else wants to do with their body is up to them. Respect those choices as you would have your choices respected.
Tutus Are Fun For Everyone
Here's the deal, dude: You get to wear whatever you want. There are no "boy clothes" and "girl clothes." If you pick them out, they're "your clothes." So if you want to wear your pink sneakers and R2-D2 hoodie with a Princess Merida dress, you go ahead. Live your bliss, my little man.
Other Bodies Do Not Require Commentary
In other words, if I ever catch you catcalling someone, I will come down on you like the hammer of Thor. You will feel the full fury of my righteous, godlike wrath.
"Fat" Is Just An Adjective — Not Inherently A Bad One
"Fat" isn't a bad word. Fat people aren't bad people. This conversation is now over. Easy.
Food Does Not Have Moral Value
You're not being "bad" if you eat a piece of cake. You're not being "good" if you have salad. You don't have to like or eat meat to be manly (whatever the hell that means). Someone who heaps their plate full of carbs isn't someone you need to question or judge. Food is food. Eat the foods you want that make you feel good, physically and mentally, and assume other people are doing the same. It's not really your business if they aren't, anyway.
Periods Aren't Gross
I mean, what are we all if not interrupted periods? The first few stages of a period are necessary for all human life. I've been having periods for 22 years now and lemme tell you: They can be annoying, but (barring medical issues) they're not a super-big deal. So if, one day, you come across the maxi pads, tampons, or menstrual cup of a lady in your life, please remain calm. And if a female friend asks you to pick up any of these items at the store, don't be embarrassed or weirded out or ashamed or feel emasculated. Don't make this a thing when it's so not a thing.
Virginity Is A Social Concept, Not A Biological Fact
You're too young to really delve into this issue now, but when you get older, you will know more about the physical and emotional logistics of sex and you will hear the words "virgin" and "virginity" bandied about. But what is virginity? It's certainly not some piece of anatomy that gets whisked away the first time you engage in penetrative sex. The thing is, no such concept even exists for men, and while people would point to the hymen as physical evidence of a woman's virginity (or lack there of), hymens don't work that way. (I told you we were going to get into it. Settle in, child-of-mine-a-few-years-from-now!)
My hero and role model Dan Savage defined virginity not as something you really lose in one interaction, but something that is sort of chipped away sexual encounter by sexual encounter until you decide you're not a virgin anymore. Traditionally we think of losing virginity as intercourse involving a penis in a vagina, but what about lesbian sex? Gay sex? Is a woman who never has sex with a man but who has various female parnters a virgin? Of course not. So rather than get hung up on being a virgin or worrying about who's a virgin and who's not, let's just say: "Virginity is basically made up anyway, so let's just focus on the experiences we want to have and making choices that help to ensure that it is as safe and enjoyable for everyone involved as possible."
Now let's keep talking about the things virginity isn't...
Male Virginity Has Nothing To Do With Manhood
There are entire movie franchises about the idea of dudes racing to some imaginary finish line to lose their virginity. Jokes are made at the expense of men (and sometimes women, but mostly men) who are virgins. But virginity is not some social albatross strung around your neck that you must struggle to cast off.
Trust: There are a ton of decidedly uncool guys who get laid a lot. Sex has nothing to do with your cool factor, and it certainly has nothing to do with your manliness. Don't let this concern be a source of anxiety for you. What you do or do not do with your body doesn't "mean" anything larger, at least not as far as it's anyone else's business.
Female Virginity Is Not Connected To A Woman's Morality Or Value
Know that the women in your life who have had sex are not fundamentally different than the ones who have not. Too many men buy into the Madonna-whore complex: Women are either good, "pure" (aka, virginal) women or they're debauched sluts. A million billion times no to all of this. Just as whether or not a man has had sex tells you nothing about his character, the same goes for women. What a woman does with her body is not something you judge or evaluate her on.
All Bodies Deserve Respect
So pay attention to the times when anyone's body is being held against them, whether it's for being female, or brown, or fat, or thin, or having a disability, or a score of other stupid reasons, and call it out.
Because, as I already said, all bodies deserve respect. You'll have days when maybe you feel a bit insecure. There will be times when you feel like you aren't strong enough or fit enough or old enough or young enough, but your body is going to see you through all of it, and that is pretty remarkable. So go out into the world confident that your body is going to see you through all of that.