A lot of what defines who I am these days has to do with my devotion to self acceptance and body positivity, but explaining body positivity to my parents hasn't been so easy. After years of being completely uncomfortable in my own skin, I began changing the harmful thought patterns that perpetuated these feelings, slowly liberating myself from crippling insecurities. However, I did not learn to do this from my parents. Like many people of their generation, they openly criticize their bodies and the bodies of others, and are not what I would call body positive humans.
Coming to terms with insecurities is often difficult for many of us, no doubt thanks to patriarchal beauty norms and media representations of beauty heavily placed onto feminine people. Actively fighting against and deviating from these norms in body positive and marginalized circles feels relatively new. But more diversified media representations, as well as being surrounded by like-minded people, has helped me to restructure my internal dialogues, and to defeat shame in areas of my body that I'm uncomfortable with.
Unfortunately, my parents haven't been given the same opportunities. In the same way that feminism has been difficult to explain to my parents, body positivity is a tricky concept to grasp for those who aren't immersed in it. But it is a concept that I know they (and anyone) can benefit from. So here are some ways to explain body positivity to the parents.
1. Define Body Positivity For Them
Since they are probably not well-versed in this stuff, explaining to your parents what body positivity actually means is a great place to start. We all have our own interpretations, of course, but I define it as working to lovingly and openly accept your body exactly how it is, disregarding beauty norms that society constructs for us. Explain how "fashion rules" and what's "flattering" are made up, and that things like gender and beauty are completely subjective.
When I've said things like this to my mom, she's always reacted in a way that indicates I'm sharing new and helpful information with her. Many people truly don't analyze these things enough to notice that beauty norms are simply oppressive constructions. It can be a very liberating thing to learn for the first time, and your parents will probably feel grateful that you shared this knowledge with them.
2. Explain How Body Positivity Has Helped You
Since I've been living on my school's campus and with my partner's family, I don't see my parents very much. But when I do, they are always impressed to observe the differences in me. As someone who used to be a very quiet, emotional, and terrified child, they are always overcome with happiness when they see evidence of my newfound confidence.
I've explained to them that I've been feeling more empowered and secure in myself since I've let go of ideas about my body that plagued my during high school years. I even shut down any body negative conversations my parents try to have with me, left over from past habits I'm sure. This sets a great example for parents who yearn to be body positive.
My parents also make a point of reading many of my stories. I encourage them to read other body positive articles as well, and send them specific ones that I think would speak to them the most.
3. Let Them Know When They're Offending You
Time and time again, my parents have made awkward comments about my gender presentation, my body hair maintenance, my weight, and many other things. However, I know they don't do this with any mal intent, but rather because of their own body negativity that they don't even realize they have. Request the use of correct pronouns, your chosen name, avoidance of fat phobic remarks, and anything else that is important to your own body positivity.
No matter how insecure your parents may be about their own bodies, I truly believe most parents would rather die than say something that hurts you. It feels scary at first, but telling your parents exactly what comments don't feel good is useful in helping them learn the right language associated with body positivity. Plus, you'll feel more comfortable in your own home, which my parents have stated on multiple occasions is what's most important to them.
4. Explain To Them That "Fat" Isn't Bad Or Ugly
My parents, like so many people, curse the day that they got "fat," or endlessly obsess about their weight and what measures they should take to lose it. A big part of body positivity, however, is relearning the definition of the F-word.
My mom has asked me many times if she looks fat in something. When she says fat, she means "unseemly" or "less than beautiful," so it's easy for me to want to say "no," as though it was an absurd comparison. My mom isn't a plus size woman, though, so I tend to say something like, "No, you're not fat. But your beauty doesn't correlate to your weight."
Explaining to your parents that fat does not automatically equate to bad health, ugliness, or the need to change (in many cases) is helpful in opening their eyes to their own body image as well as learning to be respectful of the bodies of others.
5. Say Body Positive Things To Them
My sister and I do our best in showering my mom with body positive compliments, not only because she deserves them, but because they are true. My mother is the kindest, strongest, and most beautiful person I know, but she is also the most insecure person I know. Her obsession with what's "flattering" and her chronic dissatisfaction with her post-partum body deeply sadden me. I want my mom to know that her thick thighs are beautiful. That the wrinkles, freckles, and occasional acne on her face is stunning. That her hair, her smile, her nose, and her hands are beautiful. So I tell her these things so she never forgets, and in the hopes that she says them to herself when I'm not around.
You can also shut down the body negative talk that goes on around you. My dad loves to make fun of his round stomach, and since I know it comes from a place of shame, I don't ever encourage this kind of conversation (and most certainly don't join in). Try to bring attention to how your parents are beautiful, including compliments that aren't body based.
It's also helpful to take your parents' picture as much as you can. Seeing yourself through the eyes (or lens) of someone who loves you and appreciates your beauty can act as an automatic self esteem boost. My mom hates getting her photo taken, but my sister and I do it anyway. And many times when she sees the results, she's happily surprised.
6. Show Them That It's OK To Be Silly
When you're insecure about your body, it can be hard to be freely goofy and uninhibited. I speak from experience. But help ease your parents' and your own anxieties about this, and get silly with them. Take goofy pictures, sing along in the car loudly, dance like no one's watching, and just let go! Relaxing your inhibitions helps shake off insecurities, and will hopefully remind your 'rents not to take themselves so seriously all the time.
7. Teach Them The Importance Of The Selfie
Selfies are a great way to validate yourself, and help you celebrate your body, even if they aren't being shared on social media. So teach your parents the liberating art of the (sometimes spontaneous) self portrait.
8. Do Fun Activities With Them
My parents hold back from many activities out of fear for not being able to do them right, or having their body look weird or "unflattering." Go bowling, do some yoga, or go for a family hike, and help your parents enjoy shared activities that feel good without fear of judgment over their ability or body shape.
Doing things you're not necessarily good at around your parents, or contorting into yoga poses that may accentuate your jiggly stomach, can prompt them to relax and move their own bodies in whatever way they want to.
9. Remind Them They Are Worth Taking Care Of
My parents, especially my mom, are the absolute worst at taking good care of themselves. Not only do they often neglect their mental state and stress levels, but they regularly forget to eat or get enough sleep. Remind your parents that their health comes first, and that the hours they dedicate to others aren't always necessary, especially when they aren't setting aside any time for self care.
Encourage your parents to pause during a busy work day or when doing chores at home, and sip a cup of tea or enjoy their favorite music. Tell them to focus on their breathing rather than their multiple commitments. IF YOU'RE ABLE TO, Have a spa day with them, or encourage them to take a night off for a date.
10. Tell Them Body Positivity Applies To Everything
Remind your parents that loving yourself doesn't just mean coming to terms with your weight, but also your age, gender presentation, skin, and physical limitations. In addition to feeling comfortable about the weight she is, I want my mom to learn to love her acne-prone skin and her body, which (thanks to many old injuries and botched surgeries) has many limitations. Remind your parents that every part of themselves is worth loving, no matter how long they've been told to hate it.
11. And That Body Positivity Belongs To Everyone
Many of the wonderful things I learned in my life post living at home are ideas that my parents love, but fail to believe are applicable to their own lives. It's a very "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" sort of deal. However, you and I know that this is bullshit.
Remind your parents that there is always room for improvement on the path to self love, and that you are always there to encourage them on their journey. Body positivity is for people of all ages, abilities, gender identities, races, and classes. Explain to your parents that they deserve to love their bodies as much as you do, and discuss the ways their lives can improve if only they open themselves up to a new outlook on life.
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Images: Meg Zulch