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What Your Kid Needs To Hear From You That'll Help Them Become More Body Positive

My toddler and I were playing when I caught a whiff that signaled it was time for a diaper change. As he squirmed and giggled on the changing table, I used one of my family’s favorite lines for defusing the disgust (and potential for instilling body shame) that comes up when dealing with poop. “Wow! Your tummy has been working really hard, huh? Bodies are amazing.” We talk often about how hard our bodies work. We also repeat that “bodies are amazing” in various forms because, in my house, we believe that’s a sentence that can help every kid become more body positive.

When it comes to being body positive, there is a lot of focus on countering fatphobia, ableism, and otherwise expanding the definition of what makes a “good” body. I'm 100 percent here for all of that, and I agree that “all bodies are good bodies.” As a person, and as a mom, I believe that the foundation on which those understandings are built, is a fundamental appreciation of all the amazing things our bodies do. We need to recognize and respect all that our bodies do for us and allow us to experience, in order to make choices that respect our bodies and ourselves for who we are, rather than how closely our bodies match up to oppressive beauty standards.

Bodies really are amazing, and we can't say it enough.

It's much easier to see the problems with extreme dieting and exercise, for example, if we start off assuming that our bodies are wise enough to tell us what we need to do to take care of them, and if we prioritize our well-being and how our bodies function over what our bodies look like. If we respect and trust our bodies to tell us what we need when we're hungry, when we're full, when we're thirsty, when we need to move, and when we need rest, it's easier for us to resist oppressive messages that tell us to do unhealthy things in order to punish our bodies into conformity.

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Sure, there are plenty of gross aspects to living in a human body. As moms, we're intimately familiar with a lot of them. However, even the more yucky aspects like the gross things we experience during pregnancy or witness during bath time or diaper changes are the result of the amazing things our bodies do to keep us alive. Our skin helps to keep dirt and harmful germs from hurting us. Our digestive system turns food and water into the energy we need to play and work, and to give and receive physical affection and love. They do seemingly small things like growing hair and nails, and big things like growing from babies to children to adults, and allow us to make new children if we choose when we get older. All of that is just so amazing to me.

Understanding that bodies are amazing is a perfect framework to explain how we feed and care for ourselves, too.

There are so many occasions throughout the day that show us how amazing bodies are, and taking some of those opportunities to reflect on how amazing we are can help kids cultivate gratitude and respect for their own bodies, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of bodies around them.

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For example, as kids get old enough to start noticing differences between people, we can use the questions they ask to reinforce the idea that all bodies are amazing. When our kids notice things like how people have different skin colors, we can explain why in positive ways that affirm the beauty of difference. “My skin is dark because my ancestors come from places where the sun was almost always shining, and dark skin protects people from getting sunburned. Folks whose ancestors lived in colder, less sunny places have lighter skin, which helped them make the most of limited sunshine and get enough Vitamin D. That's pretty cool, right? Bodies are so amazing.”

Similarly, when our kids ask questions about their own different abilities and differently abled people around them, we can affirm that difference (even as we simultaneously teach not to point and stare, as needed). We can remark about how strong a person needs to be to maneuver themselves around in a wheelchair, or how smart people are to find multiple ways to sense their surroundings when they can't see, or ways to communicate when they can't speak and/or hear. “Bodies really are amazing.”

There are so many occasions throughout the day that show us how amazing bodies are, and taking some of those opportunities to reflect on how amazing we are can help kids cultivate gratitude and respect for their own bodies, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of bodies around them.

The same framing works for when our kids notice that people come in different sizes. “Our bodies store energy as fat in order to protect us if we're in a situation where we don't have enough food. If we have some fat stores, we can survive for a while until food becomes available. Some people's bodies store more energy than others, depending on their needs. It’s so amazing, how our different bodies find ways to keep themselves working the way we each need them to.”

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Understanding that bodies are amazing is a perfect framework to explain how we feed and care for ourselves, too. A few times throughout my pregnancy and while nursing my son, my stepdaughter would notice aloud that I eat so much more than everyone else in our family. Rather than getting defensive or feeling/expressing shame, I'd just explain, “I need a lot of extra energy because my body is not only sustaining me, but helping to keep your little brother alive. That means I need to eat more food, and get more rest. Bodies are so amazing, right?” Connecting food and rest to sustenance, and helping kids connect the dots between what they're using their bodies to do, and how much they need to eat and sleep to sustain that, is especially important for young girls, who are bombarded with messages telling them it's “unladylike” to eat too much, or that they should be more worried about getting fat than whether their bodies have enough energy to do all the amazing things female bodies do.

As we go through our days with our kids, and questions of which bodies are beautiful, capable, and worthy, relying on this one sentence “Bodies are amazing” as a mantra and a framework for thinking through our responses can help us reinforce ideas that will help them respect themselves and other people across a variety of situations. Bodies really are amazing, and we can't say it enough.