I have had many frustrations in the dressing room trying to find jeans that are flattering and comfortable and fit my lower body, which may require three different sizes, depending on the store. Watching my daughter experience the same thing was somehow even more depressing. We have shopped at Target, Gymboree, The Children’s Place, Crazy 8, Kohl’s…the list goes on. I have definitely learned not to buy clothes without her and expect to get lucky. But even when she is there to try them on, it can be challenging. It seems that the current fashion of “super skinny” jeans in every store means that our first guess in size may not be anywhere close. She has always been average height and weight, meaning she used to hit the next numbered size right on time. Now that we are inching closer and closer to the Juniors section, it is a total gamble. (The one bonus is that I fully plan on pointing out any fashions that used to be cool when I was a teenager just like my mother did to me when the ’70s were all the rage again!)
The important conversation that we had while we were trying on yet another pair of jeans is that you should wear what fits and not care what the tag says. Girls’ bodies come in all different shape and sizes, and fashions change over the years, so stores go with the trends to convince you to buy more. If you haven’t seen this crazy video about all the “ideal body types” for women throughout the last century, it is pretty surprising to see the changes!
This doesn’t only apply to girls. Boys, too, feel pressured to change their body to fit society’s ideas. Boys can also struggle with eating disorders and the pressure to be highly muscular while maintaining low body fat. My older son watches a lot of sports and television shows like American Ninja Warrior or The Titan Games, all while having to wear the slimmest jeans we can find that don’t look like Capri pants. He just can’t seem to put weight on no matter how much ice cream he puts away!
So how do we talk about maintaining a healthy body in a way that doesn’t glorify getting it in an unhealthy way? And how do we, as moms, model body acceptance and healthy levels of activity, even if we don’t feel 100% confident in ourselves? There are tons of interesting takes from fitness experts, celebrities, medical doctors, nutritionists, and more. It can feel overwhelming at times, not knowing what advice can actually be implemented in your own house without making you feel broke, crazy, or like a failure. Here are some tips that I use when talking to my own kids about their growing bodies:
Talk about bodies through the lens of health, not weight. A number on the scale does not indicate whether you are in perfect condition, and identical numbers don’t look the same on two different bodies. I have also seen what can happen when someone pursues a body weight through medically dangerous methods, from steroid users obsessed with getting bigger to anorexic girls obsessed with being smaller. With older kids, we can go into great detail about all the factors that go into measuring health, like blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, etc. For little ones, we keep it simple by saying that our bodies can do some pretty amazing things when we give them good food, plenty of rest, and a chance to be active every day. Being strong and fit may not mean looking exactly like The Rock or Serena Williams. We can be grateful for all the things our bodies can do and work hard so that we’re able to do more!
Emphasize that our bodies are not our project and should not be constantly compared to others. I have always remembered this sentiment from author Glennon Doyle: Your body is not your masterpiece…. Rather, it is the paintbrush that you use to paint the masterpiece of your life, just an instrument through which we achieve our life’s work and love others and take in this beautiful world. This can also lead to discussions about how NOT to talk negatively about others’ bodies as well. If your body is healthy enough to do all the things you value, don’t degrade it by talking incessantly about the things we don’t like about it. By proactively having positive discussions, you can help to prevent your kids from getting the wrong messages from Photoshopped media or critical peers.
Model healthy eating at home. This article shared the encouraging research that family meals can help protect children from obesity and against developing eating disorders. I was shocked to read that boys and girls with pediatric eating disorders now outnumber children with Type 2 diabetes, and many children easily slide from dissatisfaction with their body to depression or making dangerous choices regarding food. By eating family meals together, you can ensure that they are taking in a vegetable every now and then (especially if you hide them in a recipe they already like) and that they have reasonable limits to sugary desserts. I am guilty of buying snacks that appear healthy (“it even says organic!”) but that have too many preservatives, sugars, or fats. Fruits and vegetables are a tried and true way to keep variety and flavor in your children’s diets.
If your child needs to make some changes for his/her health, make it a family adventure. It is easier to avoid temptations when your family maintains the same eating habits. Constantly having to restrict sweets from one child just makes that child feel ashamed and left out. Focusing on the negative won’t help and can lead to your child overvaluing the importance of their outward appearance. A healthy lifestyle can carry your child through the many phases of growth and help him/her understand which habits can provide medically proven improvements.
We may not be able to insulate our kids from all the world’s opinions on how their bodies should look, but we can strive to show our little ones that their value is in no way dependent on their appearance. Being happy with our own bodies while nurturing our children and keeping them healthy is the best example we can give. I hope my daughter continues to value being strong above “skinny” and that my sons remember how food fuels our body to do all the fun stuff!