8 Things People Feel Fine Saying To Boys About Their Weight (And Why They Shouldn't)
Rather naively, I thought there was a number of things I wouldn't have to worry about when I found out I was going to be raising a boy. I honestly thought body positivity would come easily, I wouldn't have to worry about rape culture affecting my son, and (if he continued to identify as male) he would be safer when walking on a sidewalk or going to some high school party. I already know I'm wrong, because I've already noticed that people feel fine saying certain things to boys about their weight that are just as harmful, just as hurtful and just as toxic as the things people say to little girls about their bodies. In other words, in this demanding culture that has set "beauty" standards, you can't win.
As a proud feminist mom, I knew that if I had a daughter I would be prepared to help her fight against the social messaging that would teach her to hate her body on a regular basis. I didn't realize, though, that toxic masculinity is just as harmful to little boys as it is to little girls, and my son is (and probably will continue to be) bombarded by certain images and messaging that tell him that his little body isn't good enough, either. He needs to have an amazing amount of muscles; like, an ungodly and unhealthy amount of muscles. He needs to be big, but not too big; just enough to take up the space that men are allowed and expected to take up. He needs to be "strong" and "tough" and his weight should be representative of that strength and toughness. It's already starting, and he's just a toddler. While I know that if my son continues to identify as a cisgender male, he won't be constantly scrutinized or sexualized or dehumanized the way women are, but his gender doesn't save him from hurtful comments about his body. Our society is unkind to everyone that doesn't fit a mold that has been established ages ago.
So, just as I would arm a daughter with tools to fight against these cultural norms, I am working to arm my son with tools, as well. I want him to continue to be confident and body positive, because right now he has no idea what is waiting for him. He gets to play with action figures and be blissfully unaware that, one day, that body type is what society is going to expect from him if he is to be considered "a man." That's why the following things people feel comfortable telling boys about their weight needs to stop. Like, yesterday.
"You're Way Too Small For A Boy"
My son has been on the receiving end of this comment and, well, I'm just thankful that he is two years old and can't understand the idiocy being spewed in this direction. On the growth chart our pediatrician shares with us during his visits, my son is right where he needs to be. He's healthy and growing and there are no health risks I need to concern myself with. Sadly, our culture has told women that they need to be small and take up less space, and men that they need to be big and take up as much space as they can (if their "big" is muscle, and not fat, of course). Little girls should be "dainty" and "petite," while little boys' bodies need to already start hinting at the big, tough men they're going to eventually grow into becoming.
I'm already working to combat these ongoing messages, as I (sadly) know they probably won't be going away anytime soon. One day, my son will understand what someone is trying to tell him, so my partner and I tell him that he is the perfect size and he has a wonderful, capable body and that we're so amazed by the things he can do with his body (like jump high and dance and put puzzles together). He doesn't need to be "big" in order to be capable.
"Don't You Want To Grow Up To Be Big And Strong?"
Usually this is said at the dinner table, and not while my son is standing on a scale or being evaluated in some way. If he doesn't seem to want to eat much of anything, a well-meaning family member will ask my son about growing up "big and strong," and why he needs to eat so he can be all manly and whatever else our culture has decided masculinity stands for. I put a stop to this conversation immediately.
A man being "big" and "strong" is no more important than a woman being "thin" and "attractive." What is expected of certain gender's outward appearance should never be what we hang our collective hats on when assigning value to people. People already have value. Like, they're born with it because they're human beings. My son doesn't need to grow up to be anything other than healthy.
"You Need To Work On Those Muscles"
Already, my son has been asked about his muscles and asked to show his muscles and told that he needs to build up his muscles. He's two years old.
Those messages of toxic masculinity are already bombarding his otherwise body-confident self, and it's heartbreaking and infuriating. Right now, my son runs around with his shirt off, little potbelly sticking out, flinging his hands and legs around with reckless abandon. I don't want that to go away because my son thinks his body needs to look like the body of some unrealistic, unhealthy action figure. He doesn't need to focus on his muscles, he needs to focus on his happiness. He doesn't need to worry about how much he weighs and if his weight can help him benchpress another weight; he needs to worry about being a decent human being and loving himself and cultivating his beautiful independence.
"You Should Be Gaining More Weight"
While little girls are often told to "watch their weight," little boys are usually encouraged to gain weight. Unlike female bodies, male bodies are granted this silent permission to take up space. In fact, being large and "intimidating" is considered a "good thing" when you're a male; it establishes dominance and comes off as confident and capable. Oh, sexism and gender stereotypes. They're just the best.
My son has been told he needs to put "meat on his bones" and gain weight, because for a male body, weight equates to power and power is the ultimate goal. My son is at a very healthy weight, according to his pediatrician (the only person, other than my son, that I listen to when it comes to my son's body or health) and he doesn't need to focus on anything other than enjoying his time as a toddler (and maybe learning how to pee in the "potty" on a regular basis. That would be nice.).
"You Don't Want To End Up Wearing Girl Sizes"
First and foremost, there is no such thing as "girl sizes." Sizes aren't gendered, my friends, just like toys aren't gendered and clothes aren't gendered. Yes, our society likes to categorize things because heaven forbid we all just be whoever it is we want to be and wear whatever it is we want to wear and like whatever it is we want to like. However, those are arbitrary modifiers the collective "we" have attached to things. Things, people. I mean, they're just things.
So if my son wants to wear the pink shirt in the "girl's" section of some department store, he can. He can wear whatever fits him (that's going to protect him from the elements). He doesn't need to gain weight or lose weight so that he can wear "boy sizes" or fit into "boy clothes." Nope. Those literally aren't things.
"You'll Grow Into Your Frame, I'm Sure"
If a little boy is small, he's usually told not to worry. "You'll grow into yourself," seems to be a common "reassurance," as if the body he has now will be traded in for a newer, more acceptable model. My son has the body he has, and that body is going to carry him all the way to his death. He won't get another one, and that includes his "frame." I don't want someone telling my son that the current state of his person isn't acceptable, so he should spend his time either working towards changing it or hoping it changes on its own.
Separate from his body, I don't want my son racing through childhood. I definitely raced through mine, because my childhood was toxic at best, and I don't want my son to do the same for some other reason. I want him to enjoy being a kid and truly experience what each year of his life has to offer him. Looking toward the future is great, to be sure, but I don't want it to become more important than his present.
"Just Wait Until You Have A Growth Spurt"
To be fair, this comment is usually directed towards me, and not my son. "Oh, I bet he's going to get one of those awesome growth spurts, so don't you worry." Well, um, I wasn't worried? It's sad that people automatically assume a parent is "worried" about a child's size (or potential, future size) if it doesn't seem to already fit some predetermined standard of either femininity or masculinity. What's even more heartbreaking, is that people probably assume that because other parents do, in fact, worry.
The only time I'm ever concerned with my son's growth spurts is when they cause sleep regressions.
"You're Built Like A Football/Basketball/Hockey/Insert Other Sport Here Player!"
I'm sure the people saying this to my son aren't necessarily thinking about what they're saying, and what the underlying message is when you associate a two year old to a certain sport. I'm afraid this comment is subtly (or not so subtly, come to think of it) teaching my son that his only value will be found in the form of some acceptable (often violent) competitive sport he'll have to sacrifice his body (and sometimes his mind) for.
I love sports just as much as the next person (in fact, more so in many cases). Still, I don't want my son to default to sports because he thinks that's just what "boys do." If he wants to play a musical instrument or chess or paint or write or anything that doesn't involve some physical, competitive activity, that is more than fine with me. He shouldn't be forced to play a sport because that's what is expected of him. His body isn't made to play sports, it's made to do whatever it is he decides to do.