This morning on Facebook, I posted this link to a terrific blog about one woman’s body-positive response to her daughter’s lament, “Mom, I’m fat.” I was inspired by a comment on that post (thanks, Andy) to blog about some of the complexities of this squidgy thing we call body image.
There are countless articles and studies and techniques and opinions regarding how we should teach our children to love their bodies. I think the general consensus tends to be to encourage them to love themselves “just the way they are,” or to appreciate “what God gave them.” And in this context, Andy wonders how to be a body-positive parent as a trans person.
I have always felt comfortable being female, never questioned my gender identity, even though I haven’t always fit into the “norm” of what a “girl” is supposed to be. For me, my questions about how I fit into society’s norms were always role-focused, so I can’t speak directly to the trans experience. But the more I think about the question that Andy raises, the more I think it’s not a stretch at all, if we think just a scootch more carefully about how we are suggesting our children (and we) cultivate a healthy body image.
My struggles with body image are pretty run-of-the-mill. I have always thought I was too big. I have always thought this bit was too small and that bit was too large. And what I have learned, now that I really DO need to lose weight to be more healthy, is that I never had an accurate perception of what I really looked like. Now, I’m a people-pleaser from way back. I learned early on to listen to what others think before I remember to ask myself what I think or feel. It’s a growing edge, and I’ve re-trained myself in most areas. Body stuff is more difficult for me. I still hear the voices that tell me that I look like 6 pounds of flour in a 5 pound bag. Or that those overalls aren’t very flattering. Or that it is hard to be attracted to me when I have gained a little weight. Many years in the weight loss community has taught me that I need to learn to love my body as she is right now today or tomorrow or next year, whether I push the scale up a bit or down, I’ve got to love myself in the present moment, AS I AM.
But what if I did not feel comfortable in my body? What if I wasn’t a girl even though I look like one?
Or what if it were my child…
Love yourself just the way you are… But what I am feels wrong.
How can I be a body-positive parent when I have gone to great lengths to change my own body?
This is where we need to think deeply about exactly what it is we are trying to teach our children. It is more than just “love yourself just the way you are,” though that is still a part of it. We need to be teaching our children a different skill. Instead of “just the way you are,” let’s teach them critical thinking. Let’s teach them to listen to their bodies, to listen to their hearts, and to create the self they want to be. Society’s “norms” told me that I looked like a girl. I was lucky. I felt like a girl. Society’s “norms” told Andy that he looks like a girl. But he doesn’t feel like one. Society’s norms told me that my belly was too big and my breasts were too small and my eyebrows were too heavy… And I believed them. But now I know that my body is too big in places and that means that I can’t do some of the things I want to do. I know that my cholesterol could be lower and my heart could be stronger. I still have days when I think that I don’t look like society wants me to look. But what is more important to me now is that I can’t do some of the things that I want to do. I still struggle with the voices, but the motivation to change is different. When I have a daughter or a son, I will do my best to teach him or her to honor personal experience. I will strive to show him or her what it means to listen to the strength within the self and cultivate a deep body-knowing.
And so, for those of you who were born into bodies that don’t or didn’t fit what your heart knows to be true about your Self, take courage. You are good and right and beautiful. I believe that we can be body-positive not just by accepting who we are now, but also by making choices about how we want to be in the future. It may not fit you exactly, but your body still carries you through the days and nights of living, and will continue to do so when you take steps to change it. The deepest truth, though, is that your spirit living within it is a miracle.