When we found out that we were having a boy, one of my first feelings was relief. Not just because I don’t have to figure out how to french braid someone else’s hair or coordinate pinks and purples yet, but also because I’m not sure I’m ready to be a good body image role model for a daughter yet.
With time, I’ve realized that while it may seem easier to raise a son, the same issues will be at play with him, and my relief has diminished.
I grew up in a family with body image issues. All of the women in my life have been on a lifelong crusade to lose weight. Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely commend them in their efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to their credit, they have all gone about these diets in a very reasonable and healthy way. But I also feel like being in a family with such a focus on weight has played into my own weight and eating disorder issues.
It was my own great-aunt, who also happened to be my ballet teacher, who told me I needed to lose weight when I was only 10 years old. It’s no wonder that to this day I never feel thin enough for anyone.
But I’ve come to realize that I can’t not be careful simply because I’m having a son. Every time I hear myself comment on my body or my husband call himself fat, I cringe. I realize that our son is still 2 and a half months from joining our family and probably a good year or two from understanding what fat really means, but I feel like we need to start making a change now. And when I say make a change, I don’t mean go on a diet.
We need to be nicer to ourselves. We need to get rid of the words “fat” and “skinny” and instead use the word “healthy.” We need to forget about pounds and inches and focus on servings of fruits and lean proteins, on taking walks for exercise and living a balanced life. We need to take our focus off the labels and onto living the way we should.
I want to give my son the best chance at self-esteem and happiness, which is something my husband and I both struggle tremendously with. I realize that in order for those things to happen, our house, our minds need to undergo changes. We have to remember that it isn’t just about us anymore and that our words, though often meant sarcastically and said without much thought, can have a bigger impact than we realize.
I want my son to be free from the labels his mother and father so regularly put on themselves. I want him to strive for health, not size or a number on a scale. I want him to be happy and that means that it’s time for his parents to practice what they preach.
No more self-deprecation, no more name calling. Just a serious commitment to try harder, to love ourselves and to help our son to be healthy and happy.
Katie is a 28 year old Southern Californian, married to a doctor, racking up as much student debt as possible as a full-time graduate student in a health science. Her hobbies include abusing parentheses, baking complicated desserts that almost universally involve frosting and loving her two cats more than is socially acceptable. She’s currently balancing her first child and graduating from graduate school. So planning and timing are also things she excels at. You can read more from Katie on her blog, Overflowing Brain.