Because I have boys, I was caught off guard when Froggy announced one morning that he wished his stomach were flatter. It’s not that I thought boys were immune to body image issues; it’s just that it was really low on my List of Things to Worry about – way behind broken bones, accidental fires, and experiments with household chemicals, all of which we have miraculously avoided so far. Nonetheless, I’ve heard enough about body image issues in girls to know that I had about 2.5 seconds to pick my jaw up off the floor, gather my thoughts, and get to the bottom of this.
“I love your body, Froggy. What made you think there’s something wrong with it?”
It was surprisingly straightforward to determine the root of the issue: early morning commercials. Our boys don’t watch much TV. What they do watch is largely limited to the early morning when I’m dozing for a few more minutes, showering, and preparing breakfast. Because we reserve cartoons for weekend mornings, the boys watch The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel, Nat Geo Wild, etc. As it turns out, there are A LOT of commercials for ab workout machines that target men. (sigh.) I was frustrated that what I thought was good parenting (limiting junky TV) had backfired, but I was relieved that the flat stomach message wasn’t inadvertently coming from within our family.
The harder question to answer was what in the world to do next. I quickly told Froggy again how much I loved his beautiful, strong body that was designed to do exactly what it needed to. I repeated this message over the coming weeks, as it seemed appropriate, and from time to time (often as I was tucking him in for the night), I would pick a body part and tell him how much I loved it and why. (“I loved seeing your strong legs kick the soccer ball today.” “Isn’t it amazing how your body fought all of those germs without any medicine?” “I love your broad shoulders because they remind me of Daddy.”) He grinned at every affirmation.
I, also, grabbed my camera. I’m always looking for an excuse to photograph my boys, and this seemed like an excellent one. The first time I asked Froggy to take off his shirt, he refused. The second time, he agreed but made me promise not to show anyone. The third time, he balked only because I told him I wanted to shoot in the front yard, but he quickly warmed up, even flexing his muscles for me.
This week, I showed him the pictures again and told him it was time to do a little project with them. Before I could finish my thought, he excitedly announced that he wanted to write a poem and ran off to find pencil and paper. This is what he wrote:
[*Although I have never used the word “skinny” to describe Froggy’s body, I, also, have never presented the word as negative, just as a neutral descriptor. I think he used it to contrast his current ideas about his body with the notion that he previously thought his stomach wasn’t flat enough.]
I think this poem positively oozes confidence. And I feel the teeniest bit of accomplishment that maybe he is acknowledging my role in that confidence. (I, also, LOVE that the poem doesn’t rhyme!)
Once Froggy had completed his poem, we sat down to brainstorm more about his body. I wrote this letter to him:
When I look at your body, I see:
Big, grey eyes, framed by enviably long lashes, that make me melt whenever you look at me.
A smile that lights up your face and makes it impossible for others not to smile in your joyful presence.
Cheeks that still hold memories of fullness from years of thumb sucking.
Strong, broad shoulders that remind me of Daddy’s and that might carry my grandchildren home from the playground one day.
Arms and hands full of love. Arms that give me “sweetest hugs,” tenderly bathe little Monkey, and lovingly massage my tired shoulders at the end of the day.
Strong legs that are non-stop bundles of energy, that run, jump, kick, peddle, skip, and gallop until you fall into your bed, exhausted, each night.
I love every inch of you.
I read it to him while he giggled. Then I asked him to tell me his favorite body part and to list other body parts he loves and why. He dictated this note:
My favorite part of my body is my chest because it’s strong and it can puff out. I love my stomach because I like it. I love my legs because they walk. I love my toes because they wiggle. I love my head because it thinks. I love my eyes because they help me see. I love my ears because they help me hear. And I love my mouth because my mouth helps me eat. I love my tongue because it helps me taste. I love my back because it helps me move. I love my hands because they help me build stuff. I love my bottom because it helps me poo to get all the food out. I love my knees because they help me move my legs to walk. I love my feet because they help me walk, too, because they move when I’m walking. I love my bones because they’re my body. I love my teeth because they help me chew.
When he was done, he asked me to print out his dictation and add a picture so he could put it on his magnet board and remember why he loves his body.
After I had compiled all of our work, I asked him if I could share our conversations and pictures and notes here with you all. He hardly hesitated before agreeing. I know body image issues might rear their ugly head again, but for now, this feels like progress.