Body shaming is an all-too-common problem, and only seems to be getting worse despite many Millennials' best efforts to teach kids not to body shame, and to celebrate and respect all bodies. While women do their fare share of body shaming, it seems that men are the predominant offenders. Even if men are not body shaming as individuals, there's no getting around the fact that our culture is driven by a male gaze that teaches both men and women the heinous standards by which to judge whether or not a woman's body is "good" and to shame women who look different than the celebrated social norm. Even if not every man himself is a body shamer, the pervasive male perspective undeniably is. Thankfully, there are ways that you can teach your son not to body shame women, and end a vicious cycle that never should have started.
Whether you're teaching your son about consent, or doing your best to love your own body and all of its marvelous nooks and crannies; Whether you're teaching your son not to fat shame, or simply taking a moment to point out all the ways that women are body shamed on a daily basis, you can be the difference between a your son growing up to make women feeling valued and appreciated, or him growing up to make women feeling less than and unworthy.
None of which is to imply that men are the sole deciders of how women get to feel about their bodies, but like, hey, we're all humans sharing space with each other, and we're inevitably going to have some affect of each other's sense of self. Your son being male doesn't inherently give him more agency over the body images of the women who will be in his life (although it certainly might), but him being male definitely does mean that you, as his mother, will be tasked with working a bit harder to make him understand the difference between the world he inhabits as a man, and the same world as it's experienced by women. And hopefully, to help keep him from unwittingly perpetuating the conditions that make it really sh*tty to be a woman sometimes.
If we're going to demand that men respect multiple body types, instead of shame the ones that are different, we must start with our sons. We can't expect the world to teach our sons to be kind to all women, regardless of their weight or height or size or anything else, and we can't expect our sons to see women for more than their body type, unless we teach them ourselves. Our culture bombards men and women with images and messages of body shaming far too regularly for us not to be vigilant advocates for body acceptances and body positivity.
So it's a big problem, and it's daunting to think about taking it all on within the micro-interactions you have with your kid. And it's not solely your job to "fix" cultural body shaming. So relax. But if you care, and hopefully you do, here are 12 things you can do.
Be Proud Of Your Own Body
It all starts with you. If you're constantly shaming yourself, pointing out your so-called flaws and calling yourself derogatory names in front of your son, he is going to grow up thinking that kind of behavior toward other women is perfectly normal. You set the standard for body positivity and acceptance.
Don't Shame Bodies That Are Different
Again, your son is going to learn from you. If he sees you make a judgmental comment about another woman's body, he is going to learn from that moment and carry it with him. If you make fun of a woman's size or how her breasts are shaped or what a particular woman is wearing, your son will grow up to think it's totally acceptable to do the same.
Be Inclusive Of Varied Body Types
It can be as simple as purchasing children's books that are inclusive of all body types, dolls that come in varying shapes and sizes and colors, and picking children's movies and/or television shows that highlights diversity and multiple body types. We're lucky enough to live in a time when these options actually exist, so there's nothing stopping you from making the tiny effort that goes into simply choosing them over something else.
Don't Idealize One Specific Body Type
Be careful about what kind of body type you are idealize, not only for yourself but in general. If you find yourself being carried under the (very strong) social current that demands a woman look a specific way in order to be considered "sexy" or "attractive," back up and re-evaluate. I'm not saying that you should feel guilty for the way that you've unavoidably internalized some of the damaging messages that have been swirling around you for your whole life that maybe made it hard for you to love your body; I'm not saying "love yourself perfectly or else not only will you be unhappy about your body, but your unhappiness about your body will turn your son into a body shamer who will, in turn, make a whole new generation of girls feel awful about their bodies, and it will all be your fault." Nope! Not saying that!
I'm saying... Well, I hope you can love yourself. I hope that examining these things for the sake of being calculated in the messages you're passing on to your kids does, indeed, carry you further down the path of loving yourself. But if it doesn't? Fake it. Sorry, but fake it. You don't have to be a perfectly self-loving person to give your kid a perfectly self-loving mother. Parents lie to their kids all the time. Even in moments when you don't fully feel the truth of it yourself, lying about how awesome you think your body (and all bodies!) are is kind of a no-brainer.
Be Honest About Body Flaws
Don't be afraid to point out and embrace your own "flaws." The beauty of every single body is that no two are completely alike, and all come with these marvelous dimples and stretches and scars and marks that separate one from the other. Let your son know that all of the above are normal and beautiful.
Point Out Unrealistic Body Standards
They're all around us, so it shouldn't be difficult to take a moment and point out the unrealistic beauty and body standards that bombard women on a daily basis. Show your son an example in an air-brushed magazine photo, or let him know that Barbie's body measurements are extremely fictitious (if not downright dangerous). This will help your son differentiate between real and make-believe, fact and fiction.
Point Out Ways Women Are Shamed In Media
Again, this will (unfortunately) be easy. And I'm not saying that you have to go on some sanctimonious rant to your three-year-old son about the sexist underpinnings of how a certain magazine headline was constructed, and the subtle implications it suggests. Although it would definitely be funny to see someone try to say all of that to a toddler. Point being, I just mean you can casually point out when something isn't "very nice" or might "make someone feel bad."
If you see someone outwardly shaming another woman and her body in view of your son, just let your son know that what just happened is not OK. If you hear lyrics in a song or see someone shame a woman character on television, take the opportunity to create a "teaching moment" and let your son know that what is going on is not appropriate, caring, or anything close to something you will tolerate. It's not about having big, lengthy lectures with your son about body issues — it's about routinely infusing tiny messages along the way that will, ideally, keep those big, lengthy lectures about body issues from ever being necessary.
Don't Unconsensually Sexualize Women's Bodies
Hey, here's a thing: Don't say things that sexualize a woman's body in front of your son. While they are, indeed, sexual and there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating a woman's sexuality, a woman's body is more than just an object worth lusting over. Also, you're with your son, and it's weird to say stuff like that in front of him.
Don't Make A Woman's Body Type The Sole Focus
A woman's body is not defined by its shape, size, height, weight, or any other outward quality. A woman's body can do incredible things, and those incredible things deserve to be highlighted and celebrated. Teaching your son that the female form is more than just its appearance, will make him appreciate women for more than just their bodies.
De-Stigmatize The Word "Fat"
Fat is not a bad word. Fat just describes a particular body type. It in no way alludes to a person's physical activity, eating habits, or anything in between.
Don't Make Exercise Or Eating Healthy About Body Shape/Size/Weight
Exercising and eating healthy should be about establishing a healthy lifestyle, not about fitting into a particular size or weighing a particular amount. Just...disconnect the two when it comes to discussing either with your son. The less you can instill an association between certain body types and correlating degrees of health, the better. The two simply are not related: Your body can look any way it looks, and also every person should try to eat in a healthy way. Boom.
Be Open And Honest About Sex
Sex and body positivity to hand-in-hand, so if you're open and honest about sex (and consent; definitely consent), your son won't shame women for using their bodies in any manner they choose. Body shaming is tightly tied to sexuality, and the idea that a woman's body should look a certain way so she can be deemed "sexual." If you take away the stigma of sex (and the stigma that many women face when they're open and honest about sex) then you work towards fighting body shaming in general.