Words matter. They matter in politics, relationships, and they definitely matter in parenting. Author and publisher Peggy O'Mara once said, "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice," and though I'd never thought about it in those terms, I instantly recognized the wisdom in this observation once I became a mother. The truth is, children aren't only listening when we're talking to them; they're also learning a lot by how we talk about and to ourselves. That's why the things body positive moms say make a difference in how their children will come to view their bodies and the way society views all bodies.
As hard as it is to carefully choose the words we use when talking to our children, it is infinitely harder to carefully choose the words we use when talking about ourselves. By the time we're parents, we've most likely internalized decades of creepy, contradictory lessons society has lobbed at us from an endless amount of angels and directions. It's left a lot of us confused, insecure, and feeling less than body positive, to say the least. Personally, whenever I find it difficult to muster positivity about myself or my person, that's when I know it's the most important to find it (to contradict whatever crap I'd been told about my appearance and worthiness) and show my kids that other people's expectations do not define us.
It's not always easy, to be sure, and like any parent I fail from time to time. However, there are some useful mantras I've stumbled across in my overall goal to teach body positivity to my children, that have helped me along. I know my children will hear them amid a million other, better-funded messages about bodies and appearance, but hopefully my repetition will leave an impression.
While we know that pretty isn't everything, unless you're raising your children in a The Hunger Games District 13-style bunker, away from all other civilization, they're going to figure out that physical beauty is something valued in our society. However, saying you feel beautiful instead of saying you are (or are not) beautiful, beauty (and the value associated with it) becomes intrinsic rather than an external value that requires external validation. It also has the benefit of showing children that it's okay to claim beauty for yourself, and that beauty comes in many shapes and forms.
Highlighting that bodies are not merely decorative objects with aesthetic appeal, but vehicles that enable us to do various things, is a great way to get kids to think of their bodies as multifaceted and able to be enjoyed on levels that might not otherwise be considered.
Because a body doesn't have to be capable of running a four minute mile or doing double dutch, or walking or dressing itself in order to be worthy of respect, admiration, consideration, or love. It's okay to acknowledge that every single body has limitations and face challenges, and wherever a body falls on that spectrum does not dictate its worth.
Pointing out that hard work and determination will usually yield positive results is a good way to show kids that bodies are amazing. All bodies have limits, but we are often capable of pushing those limits and growing and bettering ourselves in the process, both physically and mentally.
Giving specific aspects of one's physical appearance some extra love, even and especially when they do not conform to a predetermined ideal, is a good way to show children that they do not need to wait for someone else to green light self-esteem.
Because, of course, pretty isn't everything. Self confidence, as it relates to physical appearance, is only one part of a bigger picture when it comes to being truly body positive.
Too often, women are told they should not be proud. Or they should be proud, but in a very particular way about very particular aspects of who they are. This issue is often compounded by other factors: race, age, height, weight, religion, disability. Boys and girls seeing a woman being proud of herself is vital.
Sometimes, all these things have to be stated pretty explicitly, because the opposite is stated pretty explicitly.
Because being positive doesn't mean you're always self-assured and upbeat. Being insecure and body positive are not mutually exclusive! I don't think I've ever met anyone who is completely secure about every aspect of themselves and their body, at all times. It's okay to let kids know that dismantling the patriarchy is hard work, and sometimes you get tired and said patriarchy sneaks in a proverbial right hook to the ole ego.
Because kids should be able to see that it is perfectly acceptable to call people out on their crap.
Some people couldn't care less about fashion. For others (including yours truly), fashion is a kind of body art: a near limitless form of self-expression. Unfortunately, advertising and, indeed, much of the fashion industry itself, has indicated (overtly and subliminally) that fashion is only for models and the people who look exactly like them. However, the body-positive, fashion-loving mom of the 21st century is full of moxie and ideas of her own, and does not listen to such nonsense! If personal style is important to her, she doesn't let some predetermined height or weight get in the way of wearing whatever it is she wants to wear.
When Carrie Fisher fired back at body shaming trolls on Twitter around the time Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released (this was, of course, before my children watched it every single day for months on end and, no, I ain't even mad), I actually shed a single, sparkling, emotion-filled tear. Because in that one tweet, Fisher had conveyed everything I had ever felt about my body that I had never quite conceptualize and couldn't have put into words (much less in 140 characters). Ever since I read that perfect tweet, I have taken this on as a personal mantra. Bodies are great, and bodies are beautiful, but the best thing about bodies is the way they enable us to live the lives we choose.