It’s hard to say whether kids today have an easier time or a harder time with the whole size acceptance thing. On the one hand, kids have access to a much more diverse community now. When many of us who are currently adults were children, our community was pretty small. We were influenced by television and magazines and movies of course. But most of our role models and experience came from a much smaller group comprised of our friends, the kids at school, our church or community group, the folks in the neighborhood and our families. Via social media, kids nowadays have access to a much wider group of people. There are social groups focused on size acceptance on the internet. And some of their heroes like Adele and Lady Gaga have spoken out directly about the notion that kids can love their bodies just as they are. Thus many kids are exposed at a much earlier age to the concept of size acceptance.
On the other hand, that social media is a double-edged sword. Kids are constantly communicating and critiquing one another. Mistakes can be immortalized via words, photos and videos and be part of an child’s online presence for life. If a group of kids should decide to pick on another kid, they can do so relentlessly, 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. They can find and follow their target even if they choose to move away. Sometimes this cyber bullying can have disastrous consequences.
And there’s also the question of kids being sexualized at a much younger age. Kids as young as 3 are paraded around in beauty contests. Companies sell padded bikini tops to preteens. Child actors and particularly singers are presented as sex objects well before the age of consent. Kids are under more pressure than ever to conform to an extremely thin, sexually desirable, designer clad, hot number at younger and younger ages. And yes, obesity and childhood type 2 diabetes have gone up in the past 20 years (although there is ample evidence that this is now leveling off or even decreasing). But we also have a situation where hospitalizations for eating disorders for kids under the age of 12 is up 119%. That’s kids UNDER 12 here folks.
So what are we to do? How can we help? Well one thing we can do is all go sign the petition created by Ragen Chastain and I to keep kids off the next season of The Biggest Loser. The last thing kids need is to see other kids like themselves battered, bullied and abused on national television just because of the size of their bodies. If you haven’t signed the petition, hop on over there and do it. I’ll wait…
But the other thing I think we grownups can do, especially when we are grownups of size is to be good roll models for our kids. Sure we can also be good role models. We can choose not to disparage other people for their size and we can speak out when we see it happening. But I’m also talking about rolls of flesh–our bumps, and love handles and folds of skin. We can wear those body “imperfections” with pride. We can wear tank tops. We can choose not to speak negatively about our bodies, especially in front of kids. By walking around, comfortable in our own skin, we send kids the message that bodies are wonderful and beautiful and diverse–and that there are lots and lots of other things we can choose to be neurotic about other than how we look in our skinny jeans. I’m not talking about lecturing to kids. We all know how well that goes. I’m talking about simply modeling a level of casual comfort over the whole body thing. Because so often while kids are busy not doing what we tell them, they are watching intently to see what we do.
So what about you? Are there ways that you can be a roll model for today’s youth? I’d love to hear what YOU think!
The Fat Chick
I teach a yoga class for teens once a week after school. When I teach poses that tend to want modifications for larger bodies, I make sure I include those. For example, when working into twisting poses, I explicitly tell my students — and I have to give credit to Amber at Body Positive Yoga for the idea — that it’s okay for any of them who want to to physically adjust any of their belly flesh so that they feel more comfortable in the pose. And then I do just that — one, because it actually makes twisting significantly more comfortable for me; two, so that they can see that this is something people actually do in classes.