If you’ve ever spent much time around small kids, you know that they’re like little sponges, soaking up everything that the adults around them say and do — and as Brittney Johnson points out, that extends to body image, too. The Missouri mom’s post about trying on bikinis with her daughter has gone hugely viral on Facebook, garnering more than 321,000 likes so far. Johnson’s post sends an important reminder to parents that the way they feel about their bodies trickles down to how children see theirs, and it’s struck a major chord with readers.
Last week on Facebook, Johnson recounted a recent shopping trip with her daughter. “We walked into Target and she helped me pick out a few swimsuits. We picked out 11. Yeah. ELEVEN,” Johnson wrote. “Walked into the dressing room and she sat down her baby and started unhooking the swimsuits from the hangers and yelling ‘I can see your butt!’ for the whole dressing room to hear.”
Johnson started trying on the swimsuits and taking pictures so that she could get opinions from friends. “And then I snapped this one,” she wrote. “See that sweet baby girl in the corner? With half a dress on and one of the bikini tops I had picked out? I stopped for a second to see what she would say and when she turned to the mirror, she said ‘Wow I just love cheetah print! I think I look beautiful! Do you think I look beautiful too?!’”
For Johnson, the moment was an epiphany. She wrote,
[I]t hit me that she only says what she hears. What she sees. I tell her that she is beautiful every single day. She is kind walking through the mall, because I tell her she is kind everywhere else. She is polite at the order counter because she hears me when I'm polite to strangers everywhere. She gives compliments to people she doesn't know because she loves how it feels when she hears them.. And when we are in a dressing room, with swimsuits of all God forsaken things, there is a split moment when I have the power to say “wow I have really gotten fat this year” OR “wow I love this coral color on me!” And those are the words burned into my daughter’s brain.
Johnson urged parents to recognize the impact they have on how their kids see the world and themselves. “When it comes to manners, be an example,” she wrote. “When it comes to kindness, be an example. And when it comes to body image, be an example.”
“I am not a size zero. I never will be,” Johnson wrote. “… But this body made a whole other body. I am strong. I am able. And I am happy. I don't have to be beautiful like you, because I am beautiful like me.”
Johnson ended her post with the hope that her daughter will continue to love herself the way she does now, even as she gets older and faces the pressure that all women face to conform to cultural standards of beauty. “I will always remind her that the girls who look the prettiest in a two piece, or a body suit, or a freaking Snuggie, are the ones who are happy,” Johnson wrote. “Because that's ALL that matters. And I want her to look at herself every single day and say ‘Oh wow! I think I look beautiful!’ because EVERY girl deserves to feel that.”
In the space of only a week, hundreds of thousands of people have read and shared Johnson’s post, and thousands have left comments of support. Johnson’s advice for parents to set body positive examples for their kids benefits children and adults — because in trying to model a happy, loving body image for their kids, the grownups might learn to show a little more love and kindness to themselves. It’s a win-win.