I saw a Huffington Post blog today entitled, “How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body.” While I am sick to death of the barrage of articles, blog posts, and discussions about how women and girls are so fucked up about their bodies, I appreciated her point that we, as mothers, should not be talking negatively about our own bodies, or other women’s bodies, or our daughter’s bodies. I loved her message of encouraging our daughters to do things because they are strong and independent and they can. To try things that are hard and scary. To run not to get thin, but because it feels good. To move their own furniture. I get it. I agree.
But I have one question:
WHAT ABOUT OUR SONS?
As a mother of sons I often read these posts and wonder if I am not allowed to join the conversation because I don’t have daughters, and therefore I can’t understand. Am I not invited to the table because boys don’t have these problems? And if my sons do have these problems is it fundamentally weird, or wrong?
Guess what? Our sons can be fucked up about their bodies too.
Just as not all girls have a negative body image, not all boys have a positive body image. Case in point; my nine-year-old son, who seems to be obsessed with lifting up his shirt and looking at his stomach while stroking it with his palm to make sure it has not grown an inch.
I kid you not.
The boy is very tall for his age. He is long and lean, what my grandmother might have called a string bean. He is a rock climber, and a piano player, and an adventurer. He also plays video games, watches TV, and likes to spend the weekend in his pajamas. He eats everything from salad to pizza to blueberries to ice cream and we don’t ever talk about dieting in our house. But this boy, who has not an ounce of fat on his muscular body, worries about getting fat.
We catch him checking out his reflection in windows, always focused on his belly. He tells me he doesn’t want to get fat because then it would be hard for him to adventure. He tells me he feels like his body is getting bigger all over, and it looks bigger to him. I tell him he is growing, as a healthy boy should, and that his body will get bigger as he grows, but that it is not the same thing as getting fat. When I volunteered on a field trip with his class this week, one of his classmates, a girl, told me my son is crazy, that he is always lifting up his shirt, and asked me why he does this. I had no idea he was doing it at school, but he is, and kids notice. I didn’t know what to tell her without talking to this young girl about body image (because, you know, we shouldn’t talk about bodies and body image with young girls).
But what about young boys? Do the same rules apply?
I looked through that blog post and asked myself if I had done any of these things the author warns against. We don’t speak much about our bodies in our house. I recognize my sons’ abilities in their chosen sports. I tell them they are healthy and strong. But maybe we weren’t always as careful about body talk as we may have been had our sons been born girls. Maybe they heard me lament my less than perfect body at times, when I thought they were out of earshot. These days, the perils of body image destroyers that face our daughters at every turn are beaten into our heads. Stick-thin actresses and pop stars, magazine ads with impossible standards of beauty, and mean girls who will ridicule them if they aren’t perfect. But I have not once heard this same message addressed to parents of young boys.
I know from experience, regardless of whether you have sons or daughters, kids, somehow, some way, pick up insecurities about their bodies. I don’t believe it is all our faults. I don’t know for sure if I ever said or did anything that triggered my son’s anxiety about his body. Should I blame myself because I run on a treadmill at home? I admit I don’t have a perfect body image, nor am I in love with every aspect of my body, and I don’t know where my insecurities came from. But we live in a society that values beauty and perfection, whether it be in people, things, places, or our work. The perfect car. The perfect house. The perfect haircut. The perfect job. The perfect body. While I agree that we should never speak negatively to our children about their bodies, I don’t believe that what we do at home will completely insulate them from this madness of impossible standards. And I don’t believe that if my child asks me, “Mom, am I fat,’” that I shouldn’t respond with a resounding, “NO! You have a beautiful body.”
Because it’s true. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling our kids their bodies are beautiful, and amazing.