It's difficult to remain (or even become) body positive after you've had a baby and lived through 10 months of constant physical change. Perhaps you don't recognize your body or feel at home in your body, or you're coping with the lasting marks that all that stretching and contracting have left behind. Either way, being body positive for your child, regardless of gender, can be a challenge. It is not, however, impossible, and it's important to highlight the necessity of body positivity not just for our daughters, but for our sons as well.
I'm a mother to an 18-month-old son, and I'm already carrying with me a heightened sense of awareness when it comes to body positivity, and how I may authentically highlight and promote it around my kid. Of course, right now, he cannot comprehend the concept, a fact made extremely blatant in how my son carries himself. He walks with his belly stuck out, proudly and comfortably, not sucked in; He runs with his arms stretched sharply behind him, free and uncoordinated; He doesn't worry about the size of his muscles or if he is fulfilling some fictitious societal standard of masculinity. He is free to express himself and use his body however he wants, running and playing and flailing about without a single ounce of self-consciousness or a feeling of inadequacy.
It is beautiful to see, and it is something I want my son to hold onto for as long as humanly possible.
It is also something that I can assist my son in continuing to carry with him, even though our bodies (and the pressures and standards placed on them) are different. Here are a few ways that we, as mothers, can be body positive for our sons, because loving yourself knows no label, identification or man-made category.
Be Kind To Yourself
It all starts with you. If your son sees you tearing yourself down over how you look, he'll start to believe that self-hatred is normal, reasonable behavior. Say kind things about yourself, to yourself, out loud. Show your son what it looks like to love yourself and your body and the things you can do with it.
Be Conscious Of Who You're Labeling As "Perfect"
Be careful of whom you "lust" over or outwardly label as "perfect." Of course you're attracted to whomever you're attracted to, and I am not going to try to police that. However, if we go on and on about that one man with the six pack and huge arms — who embodies everything society says is "masculine" — our sons will start to compare themselves to standards that are as unrealistic as high fashion female models.
Be Proud Of Your Body
Be proud of your body and whatever height, weight, shape, and size it is. I'm not saying you can't strive to make your body whatever healthy version of itself you feel more comfortable in, and I'm not saying that you need to put yourself in uncomfortable positions or clothing in order to "prove a point" about how body positive you are. No one needs to sacrifice their personal space or tranquility in an act of martyrdom, so that others can be more open and accepting. But what I am saying is that you shouldn't feel the need to hide your body, either. The more free and open you are with your body — the more you feel at home in your form and unapologetic about the space you take up — the more your son will feel free to do the same, and respect women's right to do the same.
Don't Shame Other Body Types (Or Your Own)
If you see a man with skinny arms or small legs or who is shorter than "normal", the worst thing you can do is openly shame him in front of your son. Shaming others (and ourselves) for their body type is A) teaching our children that they can do the same, and B) perpetuating an ideal body type that our children may not be able to live up to. Our sons will start to silently wish and hope that they don't look like the person you just made fun of, and will essentially begin to hate themselves before they can completely comprehend why.
Talk Positively About Food
Food isn't a horrible, calorie-counting necessity that we have to consume in order to survive. Food can be an art or an unwavering comforter or a number of other things, and there's nothing wrong with exploring food and the different ways it can be used, not just for sustenance, but for enjoyment. Your son shouldn't be afraid to eat food, and he shouldn't be obsessed with eating a certain amount of food so he can "buff up." The longer you can go without putting the idea in your head that food is to be either consumed or withheld in order to achieve a certain body aesthetic, the better.
Compliment Yourself On What You Do, Not How You Look
Don't make the way your body looks the main focus. Our bodies weren't made just so they could be viewed and judged and criticized. Our bodies can move and explore and expand and shrink and run and jump and sweat and love and dive and swim and fly and do so many freakin' awesome things, it's almost sad that "how a body looks" is usually at the top of the list of things we worry about. Compliment yourself, and your son, on what your bodies do, not just how they look.
Don't Make "Fat" A Derogatory Word
Fat isn't a bad word. It just isn't, you guys. "Fat" is a word that describes a particular body type, and it isn't a word that should be used to shame, downgrade, or judge someone. How we talk to others, and ourselves, is how our son's will learn how to talk to others, and themselves. Set a good example and help shed the stigma of a word that never should have been used in such a derogatory way, in the first place.
Images: Annie Spratt/Unsplash; Giphy (7)