In case you haven’t heard, body positivity is more at the forefront of conversations than it's ever been, and it’s not just a passing fad. More and more, people are getting down with the idea that all bodies are awesome, no matter how small or large, no matter what they can or cannot do, no matter what they look like. It’s the kind of movement I can certainly get behind. While awesome in other ways, I did not grow up with parents who knew how to raise body positive kids. I was often teased for my appearance, whether it be for the “bump” on my nose, for having “too much” body hair, or for having just a little “too much” belly fat. The teasing wasn’t usually meant to be hurtful, but that doesn’t mean my 10 or 13 or 17-year-old self didn't get very hurt by it.
As a parent, I’m so happy to finally have a word that accurately describes the kinds of philosophies I hold in regards to my body and the way I’d like to raise my son to love his body. I’m also glad that I have many friends who are also body positive, and who have given me advice on ways I can raise a body-positive child. Here are some of the gems I’ve come up with and collected along the way:
Body Positive Parents Are Comfortable With Nudity (When Appropriate)
There was a strict “clothing always” mandate in my home growing up, and in part because of this, it took me a long time to get comfortable with being less than fully dressed myself. To this day, I still can’t be around male members of my family in a bathing suit. I want my son to know and appreciate his body, and to never feel shame if he’s undressing. Body positive parents allow their kids to dress in as much (or as little) clothing when in their own private spaces, and explain (without shame) that we do need to have certain areas covered up when in public, and that that’s OK, too.
We Don’t Police Our Kid’s Meals
As parents, it’s up to us to provide nutritious meals to our children. But once they’re older, many parents begin to pick on what their kids are eating, telling them they’re eating too much of this or not enough of that (when that might not even be the case). Body positive parents try to establish a positive relationship with food and mealtimes early on. Criticizing your kid’s eating habits can often cause them to develop negative eating habits and even eating disorders.
And We Definitely Don’t Encourage Dieting In Our Homes
Save for the need for dietary restrictions due to allergies and intolerances (such as peanut or shellfish allergies) or compassion (as in vegan and vegetarian lifestyles), we don’t really discuss or encourage diets in our home. No kid should be counting calories. When my son asks me why I don’t eat meat, I’ll explain my reasons for going veg, none of which have anything to do with my body’s size or weight.
We Allow Our Kids To Pick Out What They Want To Wear
This is fairly simple: It’s their body, why wouldn’t you allow them to choose what they want to wear? If you’re overly concerned with what their choices might entail, you could always try to openly discuss what might be deemed more appropriate for certain occasions (i.e., school versus wedding versus gym).
We Avoid Speaking Negatively About Our Own Bodies
Too many moms talk about hating their postpartum bellies, or how they lack a thigh gap, or how their butt is “too big” or “too small,” or whether they find their breasts not perky enough or not large enough, or anything else. You’d be surprised how much your child will benefit from having a body positive mom.
...Even If Our Kids Are Pointing Out Our “Flaws”
What small child doesn’t point to their mom’s belly and ask why it jiggles? This shouldn’t justify going down a spiral of negative talk. Let them know you love how much it jiggles! Trust me, they’re paying attention to our reactions, too.
We Get Real About The Various Functions Of Our Bodies
Periods! Poop! Pee! Sweat! Semen! They’re all very real and they all come from our bodies. Body positive moms never make our kids feel ashamed of these perfectly natural and healthy bodily functions. Instead, we explain the science behind why some folks menstruate and others don’t, about why others make semen and others don’t, and why no one should be disgusted by the functions of their bodies or the bodies of others.
...And We Explain How Altering Ones’ Body In Any Way Is Up To The Person
When one says the words “body modification,” you might first think about piercings and tattoos. But body modifications begin, for many people, from birth. Male babies are often circumcised and female babies often have their ears pierced. Many (though certainly not all, and that's fine) body-positive parents might forgo these things until a baby has a say in their own body modification.
Then there are less permanent forms of modification, like shaving of body hair, wearing makeup, and hair cutting/styling. Body positive parents may explain that shaving body hair (face, legs, underarms, etc.) is up to the person, and it shouldn’t make a difference to them or anyone else if they choose to do this. We also wouldn’t encourage or discourage the use of make-up, but rather simply allow our kids to explore this form of expression should they want to (regardless of gender).
When It Comes To Masturbation, We Give An Enthusiastic Thumbs Up
So many kids grow up feeling like masturbation is a shameful act. Some develop guilt complexes associated with the act and others just don’t do it at all because they feel so much shame. Body positive moms know that should be allowed to explore and understand their own bodies so they can have healthy sex lives as adults. Why would we want to deprive your kids of this?
We Work Toward Eliminating Ableist Language From Our Vocabularies
I’ve talked about the importance of not using ableist slurs before, but it’s worth repeating. Being body positive doesn’t only mean being positive no matter what size you are, but also regardless of how your body functions.
We Always Encourage Dancing And Any Other Fun, Physical Activities They Want To Partake In
There comes a moment in our lives when someone decides to rain on our parade when it comes to how we use and move our bodies. For me, this moment happened when I was in ballet class and my teacher decided to repeatedly tap me on the belly with her ruler, telling me to, “suck it in.” It was then that I first really felt like my body wasn’t a “dancer’s body,” as though girls with slightly protruding bellies shouldn’t be allowed to dance, as though no one would want to see us dance. But dancing (and any other type of physical activity) should always be encouraged, no matter what size and shape a person is.
We Try To Keep Negative Messaging Out Of Our Homes
Some body-positive parents will do this by keeping certain popular magazines out of their homes (you know, the type that talk about “bikini bodies” or obsessing about penis size). Others will also try to discuss any negative messaging they catch their kids watching on television and having honest talks about why shows like The Biggest Loser are so popular.
We Help Them Find Their Strengths
One body-positive mom told me about how her son has motor delays which were bogging him down and making him feel self-conscious. To combat this, she helped him to discover and focus on his other strengths and now he no longer thinks negatively about his delays. This tactic could be used for all kinds of things to help kids stay positive while they work on the activities that give them a harder time.