“Don’t let them see me!” “Does the door lock?” “Don’t let anyone in.”
My son has yelled this in anxiety during many many wardrobe changes. He wears a rash guard in the pool so nobody can see his “boobies.” He hides his tummy from close friends because, “They will laugh at me.”
I do not know where he gets this stuff.
We’re not overly sensitive about nudity at our house. The children have grown up talking to me while I get dressed, asking questions about my body and me willingly answering. I started the “private parts are yours” discussion so early on, it would just be part of their knowledge and never an actual subject to discuss. The children shower together, brother and sister, and we figure they’ll let us know when it’s too weird to do so. I realize this could be any day now. And I’m ready for it. I’m ok with it.
But why my son is so worried about people laughing at his body, I don’t know. We don’t laugh at him. I ask him who does and he says, “nobody but they might.”
Granted, as a middle-class-woman of white-skinny-bitches age, I have plenty of my own body issues. Sure, I obsess and count calories (sometimes) and workout (used to) and try to eat well (most days.) And sure I beat myself up about this as often as a 17 year old thinks about sex. But why on earth would my five year old son ask me if his legs are fat? I don’t say a single thing to him about my body. I try, purposefully, to shield the children from any negative body image talk. I’m hyper sensitive to this fact.
So why the troubled five year old boy wondering if people will think he’s legs are fat or his belly is big or laugh at him with his shirt off?
He. Is. FIVE.
And this has been going on for at least a year or more.
We focus so often on our daughters. We worry about their body image. We try to tell them to be healthy and not worry about their body. “You can be so many sizes and still be ok,” I’ve always said to my young daughter. She’s tall, lanky, skinny, and ridiculously pretty. (And I’m not just being biased here.) She’s blessed with the features of “where the hell did you come from” and “you resemble Jennifer Anniston but your hair isn’t colored.” In the summer she is a golden brown, healthy, happy, thin, strong, blonde hair blue eyed girl.
I envy her some days. Ok, most days. Also, though, I am proud of my body for producing something so lovely because I know I’ve spent ages wondering what it was doing to me.
But my son, my wonderfully strong, agile, healthy, golden son is asking if his legs are fat? My brain wasn’t ready for that.
Suddenly it’s not just our daughters but also our sons. Suddenly I am telling them both how to have a healthy life: eat well and move your body and you won’t have to worry. Take care of your body because it’s the only one you’ll have. Treat yourself kindly because you have to haul yourself around for the rest of your life.
Sometimes I take my own advice.
I hope they take my advice so much more often.
This is the focus now. My children tell me how many grams of sugar is in their decision and they tell me if they haven’t moved enough today. My son is stupidly talented at ball sports (also: not from my genes) and runs faster than most children in his school. One day we’ll have a hard conversation about not being the most agile. One day we’ll have a hard discussion about not begin the fastest basketball player. One day we’ll talk about the missed pitches, the tackle, the fumble, the missed three point shot.
But for now, I do what I can, and that is this: Move. Eat Well. Love your family and friends. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Tell those whom you love that you do so and treat yourself well. And one day, no, every day, you will be thankful you did.
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