I was perusing Facebook the other day when I ran across a post from the amazing and talented Carol Cain about her 7-year-old son. In case you’re not up on game, Carol is a wonderful travel blogger and mom to 3 dope boys. She’s traveled around the world, and taken her husband and sons along for the ride, but the post that stopped me cold had nothing to do with globetrotting.
Carol opened up and got deep about something that’s RARELY ever discussed—boys and body image. As a former (uh, and current) “fat kid,” I’m intimately aware with this issue. While I wasn’t relentlessly teased about my weight growing up, I was very aware that I was taller and heavier than most other kids.
There is a lot of pressure on girls to look a certain way and fit into a particular beauty ideal—thin, long hair, stylish—but boys aren’t exempt either. Although we rarely talk about it, boys are under just as much pressure to look “good” and fit in, and for many, that means being thin.
But what happens when our kiddos don’t fit into society’s limited ideas?
I’ll let Carol tell it:
This morning my little boy came out of the bathroom sad. He is sad because he says he is fat. He says he is fat because someone keeps telling him he is fat…and ugly. He’s 7. And a boy dealing with self esteem issues that we as a society usually limit to girls. He feels bad for himself, he said. This is the same kid who will hike longer and harder than most adults I know. This is a kid who scores a goal almost every time I see him play soccer. This is a kid who, when in nature, is more outgoing and active than most kids his age. This is a kid who is strong and agile and fearless and adventurous and so, so funny and witty. And someone has told my kid that he is ugly because he is not, like most kids in his school, smaller. And I had to sit with him and tell him how his 6’2 brother, the same lacrosse, basketball, football playing, county-level swimmer he admires was physically the same as he is as a kid. And he listened and teared up and hugged me. And then held his head up proud when I dressed him up handsomely for picture day.
All this, my friends, to ask that you watch yourselves and your moments of lacking self love. To listen to the belittling words you speak out loud, to pay caution to those healthy practices you try to instill in your kids and how you try to instill them, because those kids are coming to school and telling kids like mine that they are too fat, too ugly, not worthy, not beautiful – because someone at home has convinced them as much.
What images are you pointing to to instill insecurity and convince your young child to be “healthier”?
It’s interesting, because my oldest didn’t struggle with this during his “chubby” age. Maybe it was because we lived in a low-income, minority driven area, where being tall for your age and having meat on your bones was “normal”. I don’t know. I just know that it’s spilling into my home and I am angry about it and it needs to stop.
Like Carol’s son, I was chubbier than other kids, but still very active. I played basketball and volleyball; I was shy, but had a lot of friends; and I was comfortable and confident in my skin until someone pointed out that I shouldn’t be.
We want to protect our sons. We want to keep them safe, and healthy, and give them wings…but in our zeal to help them sidestep the growing obesity epidemic among kids of color, let’s remember to also be gentle with them. Like many of us, our boys are struggling with accepting themselves and their bodies too, and it’s our job to help them see their beauty (and the beauty of others), and not stamp it out.