I never know what to expect with my son, and my parenting mantra so far has pretty much been: Expect the unexpected.
And it’s true. Just when I think I’ve gotten things figured out, he goes and changes things up on me.
Lately, it seems as if EZ has been way more body conscious than normal. Within the last couple of months he’s become much more insistent on his need for privacy when naked around others, which wouldn’t be something of note if this wasn’t the same kid who refused to wear clothes for most of his first three years of life.
|Just last summer on Cape Cod|
His behavior has been most notable this summer as we go swimming nearly every day. He demands a rash guard, refusing to swim topless (although, from a sun protection stand point, I’m actually on board with this one!). Whereas before, he would toss off his wet swim trunks wherever he was when it was time to leave, we either have to use the bathroom or create a towel barricade so he can change now.
|At the spray park a few weeks ago with his bff|
He’s even taken to insisting that his best friend (a girl) doesn’t see an inch of him if he has to swap clothes/put on a bathing suit. Yet, he’s still totally fine with taking baths together with her. Yeah, I’ve stopped trying to figure out how a 4 year old’s mind works too.
Beyond this new found modesty (which we’re honoring for sure), he’s also much more aware and vocal about the differences in people’s bodies…sometimes in a jarring way. EZ has taken to letting MD know that, “you’ve got a big belly, daddy.”
In fact he’s shared the same sentiment with my father when he was visiting last weekend, much to my father’s amusement.
At first I thought he was being observational, but then he continued to explain that, “they probably got those bellies from eating too much junk food and sweets.”
Now, it’s not that he’s wrong…in fact, he’s pretty much on the money, but it was his follow up thought that struck me.
“If I don’t want a big belly like that, I need to stop eating junk food. I want a flat belly because it’s better.”
Sure, all of this can be chalked up to kids say the darnedest things, but it resonates a bit deeper for me. I started thinking about body image and how young it really starts.
Body image is something that has always been on my mind. Despite currently having a healthy sense of self, I’ve struggled, like many women, with my body image throughout the years. I’ve found that I’ve become much kinder and gentler with myself since giving birth (which is a whole other topic, perhaps for another time).
We’re bombarded with media images on a daily basis, and given false images of what “perfect” should be, that I feel like I need to work even harder to encourage body-positive language and thought in my house.
|Kimoralee Simmons on left/Heavily photoshopped ad of her on right.
Courtesy of Beauty Redefined
Most people might say, “But you have a son! It’s so much easier! You don’t have to worry about all the stuff young girls will go through with body image.”
And while they’re right that I won’t be facing the same struggles those with daughters do, I’m also not blind to the very real problem of body image issues and boys. While finding statistics and studies that focus on boys is difficult, the evidence is out there. Boys compromise 5-15% of those struggling with bulimia, and I’m certain that those numbers are under reported for a variety of reasons.
Beyond eating disorders, 60% of preteens and teens feel their lives would be improved if they could change their weight. This dissatisfaction with weight and appearance is not something that is solely reserved for girls, and while it may be more prevalent, the notion that boys can fall into the same trap should not be ignored.
|Photoshopped muscles on tennis star, Andy Roddick
Courtesy of Beauty Redefined
In addition to boys succumbing to negative body ideals, I would also like to raise a son who is aware of what women deal with due to the subversive messages regarding body image in the media. I want him to be educated about these issues so that hopefully he will be a body-positive male who “gets it” and doesn’t buy in to the falsified media hype of what is “beauty” and “perfection.”
So, do I really think my son is headed down the path of not accepting his body or having a possible eating disorder? No, I don’t. But that doesn’t stop me from realizing that there are those who do fall into these traps. I know of one young boy who started obsessing over what he ate starting at 6 years old. His reasons all boiled down to how he perceived himself and how he felt others perceived him. At 6.
Sadly, he’s not alone. The number of kids who “diet” is only growing and they’re starting younger as well. Frightening stuff.
When EZ makes comments like that, I remind him that we eat healthy as a family, and that by eating our “growing food,” we’ll make our bodies strong and full of energy. I don’t focus on how our bodies look, but rather the awesome things they are capable of. If we can build up a strong confidence in him at this age, then perhaps it will be easier for him to rebuff the thousands of images he’ll see as he grows up that push another message.
Thankfully, I’m not alone. There are wonderful groups out there that promote and support body positive language and efforts. One of them that I’ve become familiar with, Beauty Redefined, has recently been in the news for creating billboards in their hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah, that promote body acceptance.