Much of the focus of the body positivity movement has been on creating a positive mindset for women and girls. But one mom wants to make it clear that boys should be part of the conversation, too.
Children’s author and body positive activist Allison Kimmey shared a story on Instagram Wednesday about her young son. Kimmey detailed how her son recently got wet in a water fight at her husband’s football practice, took his shirt off to dry, and refused to join his dad on the field because he didn’t want people to look at him.
After a little prodding, Kimmey’s son revealed that he’s “embarrassed about my belly,” specifically the fact that he doesn’t have “abs or big muscles like the football players.” She stressed to him that everyone has abs, but everyone’s abs look different. Kimmey says she also pointed out to her son that he probably doesn’t care if he can see his friends’ abs or not, and most people don’t care about his.
“These conversations are not just for our girls, they are for our boys,” Kimmey wrote. “Gone are the days when boys and men are just supposed to stop feeling, ‘suck it up,’ and become hard to life’s demands. There’s a quote from Gloria Steinem: ‘We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.’ It is time.”
People praised Kimmey’s approach in the comments. “I have a son and not a lot of people talk about how to raise a good and confident little man,” one said. “My son has been bullied for the last 5 months because he’s bigger than most of the other boys. I have been trying to teach him that it is the other kids with the problem and not him,” another wrote.
“Boys’ body image and self-esteem are intricately tied into their body image in just as strong a way as for girls,” licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, stressing how important it is to include boys in conversations about body image. Athletes and fit celebrities are held up as symbols of the ideal male, often making boys want six-pack abs, a flat and powerful chest, and defined muscles, he points out. And that’s just not realistic for everyone.
It’s important for parents to talk not just about physical appearance but what a child’s body can do, psychologist and body image expert Sari Shepphird, PhD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, especially because boys aren’t immune from anxiety and depression related to body image. Comments like “wow, you’re a good jumper!” and “look how fast you can run!” can go a long way toward helping a child see their body as a valuable instrument rather than something that just looks a certain way, she says.
The way you and others talk about your body in front of your child matters, too. Children model their behavior after their parents and if they regularly hear complaints about body image, they’ll start to think of their bodies the same way, Mayer says.
If you hear your child complain about their body, it’s important to stress that no two bodies are alike, and that’s a good thing, Shepphird says: “It’s an aspect of diversity that we don’t appreciate.”
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