How early can our own body judgment affect our children? The answer? Immediately.
I’m recently post-partum with my second baby, so I tend to have my kiddos on the brain.
How can I best teach them about kindness and inclusion?
How can I protect them from diet culture?
How can I help them cope and heal when society inevitably influences (or hurts) them?
As any caregiver knows, on the journey to dismantle diet culture there is no algorithm for effective avoidance. Judgment and fatphobia are everywhere, and despite our own beliefs and efforts, it will sadly affect the youngest, most vulnerable, and easily influenced – children.
Story time: At about 37 weeks pregnant I changed OBGYN providers (simply based on hospital preferences), and underwent all the normal intake stuff per usual. Part of that was asking me about my first pregnancy/birthing experience, which personally included a surprise, scheduled C-section for an anticipated large baby. (While she wasn’t the predicted 11# they measured, she was tipping very close to 10#!) Because of that experience, I was able to have an ultrasound a few weeks prior to my predicted due date this time around, in order to estimate the baby’s growth in hopes of avoiding any surprise C-sections.
Low and behold, little guy was indeed predicted to be a little guy. Cool huh? My body housed and nourished two very different humans. As I explained this to the nurse, her response was,
“Oh, wow. What do you think you did differently this time?”
My response was literally .. “What?”
Her: “Well, like, why do you think your first was so much bigger? Did you eat or do things differently this time?”
Now, I have to include that her tone was absolutely what you’re imagining – Accusatory. Judgmental. Presumptuous.
This nurse, this seasoned medical provider, this human, was:
1. Comparing the size of my children (correction, my toddler to my then, not-yet-born child).
2. Insinuating that my first baby that weighed more at birth was a result of me doing something “wrong,” and that my baby that weighed less at birth was a result of me “doing something right.”
3. Connecting my actions as a parent (eating, behavior change, etc.) to the body size of my children.
You better believe I kindly, yet firmly, found it in me to let this person know that I didn’t do anything during my pregnancies that influenced my children’s bodies to be this different, and they were, in fact, two different people with different bodies (don’t go thinking I’d let this one go!).
The point of this disclosure is actually nothing personal – it’s quite the opposite. To paint the picture that anyone, no matter the job title, experience, or relationship, can pass judgment on bodies, even children. Was I pretty annoyed? Sure. But after taking a step back I feel more sadness over the reality of this type of situation than anything else. Our toxic diet culture had impacted someone’s view enough that they didn’t think twice about immediately forming an opinion on children’s body sizes AND the (assumed) influence of the parent. Knowing how our culture simply infiltrates experiences like this breaks my heart, but also impassions me to try and help make change.
So HOW do we make the change?
There’s plenty we can do for ourselves as adults – it’s never too late to work on our own food and body relationships, although hard to do the work of digging up old roots and planting anew. But for youngin’s? There is infinite space to fill with beautiful notions of respect, acceptance, kindness and inclusion. It’s so important to start this early to provide children the best chance at developing a healthy, grounded relationship with their body, and towards others.
Here are some thoughts on ways we can work on instilling these morals in our children in hopes of empowering them to fight the good fight when it’s their turn:
1. Teach Body Neutrality – Teach that ALL bodies are good, and different. From the get go, work on speaking about all body types, body parts, or body differences as worthy. As good enough. As neutral, without moral attachments. If we are able to teach our children to be weight inclusive, and see all bodies as morally equal, the hope is that they can better recognize weight bias as it happens. Better yet, they can grow to feel confident in their bodies regardless of what others’ judgements may project.
2. Speak Your Truth – It’s hard to navigate what is an “appropriate” amount of insight to give our children around heavy topics, especially when we feel the need to protect so innately. Something I’ve learned about the dance is that sometimes parental protection can become avoidant or sheltering (I don’t want my babies to get hurt!). A different option is to provide them with the armor, knowledge, and resilience they may need to protect themselves when the time comes. Like the example above, judgment can happen anywhere, from anyone, at any time. My hope is that the more I point out different ways people talk about/to others, the more that they will understand the impact of diet culture, and start their own work in dismantling it.
3. Guide Confidence in Boundary Setting – Start teaching children about boundaries almost immediately, in small ways. When kids are old enough to understand diet culture and what fat phobia looks like (amongst other harmful, hurtful judgments), it’s likely they’ll already be at a place of also needing guidance in how to respond to it. Provide your children with the gentle guidance to feel okay saying things such as, “I don’t like to talk about bodies that way,” or “I’m proud of my body the way it is,” or “my body is the least interesting thing about me.”
Frankly, so much of how we groom our children has to do first with how we groom ourselves. If you remember anything, no matter your past or present relationship with body inclusivity, remember compassion. Even in our own growth, our children (AND any children around us) will learn and repeat our behavior. Modeling compassion for ourselves and others, being open about what diet culture is and how it negatively affects people, and responding to our own growth needs, as well as theirs, will undoubtedly be a good start. It’s true what they say – children are the vision of the future. Let’s build a better one.