Everyone in my life has said it at least once:
"I don't like the way I look. I want to change it so that I can feel better."
I've said it. I've said it many times, as a fat person. Mostly, it's to do with my health. I want to lose weight and feel better, health-wise. And I've started doing that, because some of the medical problems I have can potentially become life-threatening if I don't pay attention to them now. But I've also said it in relation to the way I look. I sometimes don't like the fact that I am fat. I sometimes think that I'm unbearably ugly. And though I do take the view that fat is not always an indicator of health and it's definitely not an indicator of how beautiful you are, society, or attitudes in my life, or whatever it is, can get to me.
I really like the two articles going around lately about talking to children about their bodies. In a nutshell, they preach body positivity, health and wellness, and don't focus on weight as an indicator of beauty. Society wants us to think that thin equals beautiful, and it's having an effect on our children. Kids as young as five talk about wanting to lose weight and being less fat so that they can be beautiful. That's a pretty disgusting thing for a young child to say to you. Those articles are full of great ways to talk to kids about their bodies and about society's views towards weight and beauty. They're great, especially in a world where it can be hard to know how to respond to a child talking badly about themselves.
But there's one point I just can't agree 100 per cent with, and that's this point:
"Don't make negative comments about your own body. Don't let him overhear you calling yourself fat, or saying that you should go on a diet. He will learn to love and accept his body by watching how you treat yours. Always remember that he will take his cues on body acceptance from you."
OK, I do actually agree with some of that. Children take their views of their bodies from adults. As a nanny, I'm careful about how I present myself to children. I get a lot of questions about my weight and the way I look from curious young kids. I'm not significantly obese, but I'm not thin, either, and many children I look after have thin parents. I try to present the way I look as just another shape that a human being can be. Because really, though I can be thinner, I'm never going to be as thin as their parents. And that's OK. Not everyone has to look the same. Not everyone has to be thin to feel good about themselves and feel beautiful. I feel that's an important lesson to teach children. There's way too much of the opposite being taught in our culture.
But here's the point I'm trying to make. I do think children should hear you talk about your feelings towards the way you look. I think that never talking about the fact that your rounded stomach makes you feel unbeautiful or that you don't always like the way your thighs look, tells them that if they don't like the way a certain body part looks, or if they don't like the weight they're at, they should stay silent about it. And I don't think that's a healthy way to view bodies, either.
My mother has mentioned her unhappiness with the way she looks almost my entire life. She's done different things to try to change the way she looks, but the most valuable advice she gave me is that if you're not comfortable with the way you look, you can try to change it in healthy ways. I made the mistake of telling a friend that I didn't like the way she spoke negatively about herself. In fact, she was empowering herself to find strength to change and become healthier. It's really easy to get caught up in the other side of the fat acceptance movement, which is to be intolerant to any negative things people say about themselves. And if that's all they say, then the message they're getting is the wrong one. Our bodies are beautiful -- and if we don't feel beautiful, we have the power to find positivity about ourselves and try to change the things we don't like. But it's not OK to silence someone. They may be reaching out for help and acceptance. We don't know until we question why they feel that way about themselves.
I want the kids in my life to feel comfortable with their bodies, positive and negative. To me, that doesn't mean never saying they don't like their thighs. They may not ever be able to change the genetics that gave them those thighs, but together, maybe we can talk about the things they do like about their bodies. Maybe we can talk about healthy ways to change their perception of themselves, from eating more healthily to exercising more, to even empowering each other by saying positive things over and over until we're hearing those things, and not the negative things. My mother and I have done that for each other, and I don't think it would have been possible had I not heard her talk negatively about her body.
Children don't need to be shamed. They don't need to hear us shaming them for looking a certain way. But the conversation does need to be opened up, especially about their bodies, and about our bodies, too. I may be fat, but it's OK if I feel uncomfortable about it sometimes. What's important is that I'm showing the child I'm speaking to that I am working through my feelings and finding a way to feel powerful and positive, whether that's through making changes that are healthy, or simply finding the beautiful parts of myself.
Everyone is beautiful -- yes, even fat people. It's OK to ask for help and affirmation. If there's anything I want the kids in my life to know, it's that I'm willing to reach out to help them feel the best they can about the way they look, feel, and think. That's important as they grow into adulthood, and become the next segment of society to define what beauty looks like.
In the end, fat or thin acceptance is simply body acceptance. The way you get to the point where you're comfortable with your body is what matters.
After the media focused on her <a href="http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/news/lady-gaga-shows-off-25-pound-weight-gain-in-tight-outfit-2012229">alleged weight gain</a> in September 2012, Gaga hit back at critics by baring her body in photographs, sharing her struggles with an eating disorder, and inviting her fans to join her in a <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2012/09/26/lady-gaga-puts-bulimia-and-body-image-on-the-table-in-a-big-way/">"body revolution."</a>
Adele says she <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57376080-10391709/adele-talks-about-her-body-image-and-weight/">tries not to worry</a> about her body image and doesn't want to be a "skinny minnie." "The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body -- only then should you try to change things about yourself."
The actress <a href="https://twitter.com/RebelWilson/status/253324823005118465">took to Twitter</a> to say, "I'm not trying to be hot. I'm just trying to be a good actress and entertain people."
After the March 2012 frenzy around Judd's "puffy face," the actress fought back in <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html">The Daily Beast</a>, calling the media out for making women's bodies "a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others."
Tate's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-tate/mom-pictures-with-kids_b_1926073.html">essay</a> about body image and motherhood not only broke the Internet; it has sparked a movement of "moms who stay in the picture."
On her informed, thoughtful blog <a href="http://www.the-beheld.com/">"The Beheld,"</a> Autumn writes about beauty, body image, appearance and her two -- that's right, <em>two </em>-- mirror fasts.
Gruys went on a year-long<a href="http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/"> mirror fast</a> during which she did not study her reflection in mirrors or other reflective surfaces, or look at photographs of herself.
"I am always in support of someone who is willing and comfortable in their own skin enough to embrace it," the singer said in a<a href="http://www.ianslive.in/index.php?param=news/Aguilera_wants_to_empower_women-389922/ENTERTAINMENT/15"> recent interview</a>.
At the 2012 New Yorker Festival, the magazine's TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, asked Lena Dunham, producer, creator and star of the hit HBO show "Girls," why <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/lena-dunham-new-yorker-festival-emily-nussbaum_n_1948596.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">Dunham is naked in so many scenes</a>. Dunham responded, "I realized that what was missing in movies for me was the presence of bodies I understood." She said she plans to live until she is 105 and show her thighs every day.
Chung <a href="http://fashionista.com/2012/10/alexa-chung-on-her-upcoming-line-and-struggling-with-body-image/2/">responded to critics</a> who suggested that her slight frame made her a bad role model for young women, saying: "Just because I exist in this shape doesn't mean that I'm, like, advocating it."
The NYU student started the amazing <a href="http://thebodyloveblog.tumblr.com/">Body Love Blog</a>, where she posted this picture of herself and wrote an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stella-boonshoft/self-portrait-ask-me-why-_b_1987406.html" target="_hplink">open letter to those who feel entitled to shame others</a> for the size or look of their bodies.
This 5-foot-tall, 200-pound singer spoke openly about her weight to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/beth-ditto-talks-skinny-privilege-fiancee-body-image_n_2057290.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">The Advocate</a>, saying, "I feel sorry ... for people who've had skinny privilege and then have it taken away from them. I have had a lifetime to adjust to seeing how people treat women who aren't their idea of beautiful and therefore aren't their idea of useful, and I had to find ways to become useful to myself."
Follow Elizabeth Hawksworth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@liz_hawksworth