Using Your Powers for Good

*the post that I use to explain why I think Maria Kang and others like her in the public eye could be using their platform to help and build by (surprise, surprise!) relating it to something that happened this week with one of my kids.

Maria Kang has yet again fauxpologized for fat-shaming. If you want to read a fairly well balanced article on these latest comments, check out this article by Mary Elizabeth Williams about Maria Kang’s response to a lingerie company that encouraged all women to be proud of their bodies and post selfies of themselves in their lingerie. Her response was, “I was a little peeved because while I feel like it’s ok to love and accept your body, I think that we’re normalizing obesity in our society.” Which on the surface doesn’t seem so offensive…until you think. Believing it’s okay to love and accept your body only rings true if you are not shamed for your body and if you aren’t told to hide your body so that you aren’t normalizing obesity. Love and accept your body – but don’t show anyone else or they might think it’s okay for their body to look like yours!

She talked about her history. She told a story of an unhealthy mother and her personal struggles with eating disorders and weight loss. How sad that she didn’t use that special knowledge to be more compassionate to others who may have the struggles that she or her mother had. How unfortunate that she didn’t channel those hurts and feelings into building up others and helping them become more comfortable in their own bodies.

She said that “No one should be ashamed of who they are, at the same time, in order to desire something greater, you have to – at some level – be uncomfortable with where you are at.” Which really doesn’t sound like loving or accepting your body at all. It sounds painful and sad and certainly doesn’t line up with her statement that “however your body physically manifests in the process of exercising and eating healthy is beautiful. And it doesn’t have to look like mine.” (which is good because my genetics definitely won’t allow for that – and also I would like to add that it’s okay if you don’t value exercising/healthy eating as much as she does). I think it was this statement that struck me this week as I’m figuring out new ways to communicate to my children that people don’t have to look like you to be valuable.

This week my 4-year-old son came home from school and said a statement I was hoping to never hear from any of my children. I am working so hard at instilling this sense of social justice in them, at teaching them to look at a person’s behaviours, choices, and words rather than their appearance. So when he told me, “I don’t like people with brown skin” I felt like I had walked into a wall. We have talked about these important issues so many times; I forgot how impressionable he is to the statements of other children at school. After my initial response of, “GAAAH, YOU CAN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT!!!!” and maybe over reacting a little…and after talking about his friends in his class who have brown skin (that he insists are all nice and kind and therefore did not fall under the category of people he doesn’t like – one being one of his favourite playmates) and asking if he had a bad experience (none that he could remember) and asking if he could remember who said that to him in the first place (he told me he didn’t know where he learned that) we settled into a real conversation about appearance. This conversation of course happened right in that horrible time between 4:30-5:00 when everyone is tired and irritable after school but before dinner – which I was naturally trying to make while wrangling 3 small children.

And once I calmed a little and stopped feeling like a complete failure as a mother and human being, I sat on the floor with his jittery little body in my lap and we talked. I asked him if it would be fair for someone to dislike him because his eyes are blue and his hair is brown. No, he replied, that would make him angry and sad. You’re right, I said, it wouldn’t be fair because you don’t choose your eye or hair or skin colour. But you do control your choices and interactions and that’s how we determine who would make a good friend.

And then, on the chance that I hadn’t made my point yet, I related it to Super Heroes. Because really, what’s a conversation with a 4-year-old without talking about Super Heroes? I talked about how Super Heroes love everyone and try to save everyone. I talked about how it doesn’t matter what a person looks like – the colour of their skin, hair or eyes, or the size or shape of their bodies – everyone is valuable and equally worth saving. And then we talked about his Super Power. His Super Power is the power to choose how he talks to and about other people. He can choose to say kind things and to make people feel good about themselves or he can choose to use his power to make people feel bad about themselves. And I made it pretty clear that I wanted him to use his powers to help and encourage.

And I don’t know if I had the exact right approach or said just the right words. I don’t know if I got through. I don’t know how I’m going to help him see that appearance is unimportant compared to choices and kindness.

But I do know one thing. If people like Maria Kang (and many, many others) who have opinions that are heard by many would truly take the stance that “it’s okay to love and accept your body” (and the bodies of others) whether it be your/their colour, shape, or size (without conditions or excuses) I think my job would be a lot easier.

 

(Also – if you have a story that has helped teach children about acceptance of everyone, please share it. I would welcome storybook ideas or learning about what analogies helped you teach your kids! So far the Super Hero analogy seems to be making sense to him as he was able to explain how he used his powers to encourage today at school…)

Hazel’s Unhealthy Halloween Conclusion

*A little under a month ago, I posted on Facebook about a book that my daughter brought home from her school library. Here’s the conclusion to that whole situation! (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending!)

Right before Halloween (the same week that a woman decided THIS was acceptable and also right around when the Maria Kang Excuse photo came out), my daughter came home from school with a book for us to read. We got part way through the story before we stopped reading. Here is the letter I wrote to her school:

_____________________________________________________________________

My daughter, K. Schmidt, attends your school. We have had lovely experiences so far at your school and feel very positively about the messages that are being communicated to our children.

Today she came home with a library book entitled, “Hazel’s Healthy Halloween” by Kathryn Meyrick. We were excited to read it as we assumed it would not be all about candy – perhaps some fruits and vegetables as well. We were wrong!

In this book, a witch named Hazel is deemed too fat to fit in a dress for the party she wants to attend. She is sent to “Health Farm” for 6 days. The whole time she is there she completes ridiculous amounts of exercise and each day eats absolutely nothing.  After six days of anorexia and extreme exercise, she’s told, “You’ve won. You’re thin!” She arrives at the party and is greeted and told she’s never looked so lovely before. Then she is told,

“Hazel, you look serene,

Fit to be a fairy queen.

This could be the start

of a fine romance.

May I have the pleasure

of this dance?”

At this point, there is a small footnote that “if this is the end you’ve been waiting for, close the book and read no more.”

It goes on to say that she didn’t go to this trouble to please a man but for the buffet. She proceeds to binge, rip her dress because she’s all fat again and calls it a happy ending.

My husband only read to the line about losing weight before he closed up the book and handed it to me. I read it on my own getting more and more appalled as I read.

There are so many messages in here that are wrong that I don’t even know where to begin. I can’t talk about all of my issues here, but I will address the ones that are the largest.

First of all, anorexia and binge eating are both extremely unhealthy practices. Everything about this book is unhealthy. The messages that we are trying to teach are not about dieting, they are not about trying to achieve a specific shape at all. They are about making healthy food choices most of the time. We’re teaching our children to walk or ride rather than drive. We’re teaching them to build activity into their day in a way that they find fun. We’re teaching them to make choices to make them feel good in their bodies.

Secondly, Hazel is not lovely or worthy of attention when she is big but is lovely and fit to be a queen that is in a romantic relationship when she is thin. What a horrible message to give to small children. What a horrible message to give to anyone. The value of one’s character and the choices they make should determine whether or not they are lovely. A person’s appearance and/or size do not have an impact on their value.  The fact that someone is human is what gives them worth.

Our children are growing up in a culture that has a very narrow definition of beauty. People are shamed for not fitting into this very narrow “ideal”. I want my children to know that they are worth loving no matter what they look like. We are trying to build healthy self-esteem and healthy self-images. We are trying to teach them not to judge people based on their appearance. Books that send messages like the ones contained in this story are undermining everything that we are working towards.

Hopefully this book can be addressed, as I do not believe it lines up with the morals that I see the school striving towards.

Thank you,

Joanna Schmidt

__________________________________________________________________

The next day, I returned the letter and the book to the school librarian. I was told that she didn’t have the power to pull the book but to contact the Board Office as there is a Digital Literacy Support Teacher who oversees 28 of the Elementary school libraries in our board. I found the number (after quite the search on the HORRIBLE board website) and called to lodge my complaint.

The woman that I spoke to was wonderful. She was kind and understanding. She told me about the process of getting a book removed but reassured me that I wouldn’t have to do anything further as long as she agreed with me when she read the book (as she would pull it herself – and actually has the ability to remove it from all of the libraries she oversees). We actually had a pretty great conversation about body image and healthy ways to talk about this topic with children.

Yesterday I heard back from her. She had lost my number in the shuffle (and I was glad to hear the school wouldn’t just hand out personal information) so she had actually gone through quite a process to find my number to let me know that the book was removed from circulation. She seemed as horrified by the content of the book as I was and said it was clearly missed in a cull about 10 years ago.

The other thing she told me was how grateful she was that I had called her and that I had written the letter. She said this made her job a lot easier as everything was all written up. I appreciate so much how she treated me respectfully and made me feel that my opinion was valued. Further, she thanked me (multiple times) for being so nice and easy to get along with through the process (I bet you can imagine some of the horrible conversations she’s had with irate parents!)

As one of the things I’m now working on is dealing with conflict in a non-terrifying way (in other words, I HATE conflict!!) this whole experience left me feeling very encouraged that this is the woman choosing the literature that thousands of kids will see through their school libraries. It also encouraged me to be able to speak up again if the need arises.

Another encouraging thing for me has been hearing from friends who checked out their school library to make sure it was pulled from there as well. I know it has been removed from at least one other school and that it was previously removed from another.

As much as I wish this whole situation wouldn’t have had to happen, I love that it worked out so well. Now to work on the messages that the book sends and helping people be more body accepting…and I’ll leave you with my daughter’s thoughts on it all:

“But mom, it was written by an ADULT! Why didn’t she understand that already?!?”

My Cups Runneth Over

*My very first blog post on my very own blog…and also the one in which I talk about my boobs. Let’s face it; it will probably happen again…

Recently there’s been a lot of online attention (at least in my circle of friends) around body acceptance and body positivity. This has primarily come as backlash to the “What’s Your Excuse?” photo posted by the professionally fit Maria Kang. I’ve found many of the posts made to “We don’t need an Excuse” to be encouraging and beautiful.

As I read these posts, it hits me deeply how important it is that I teach my kids how to view people. How to teach my kids that they are valuable no matter what; that they are beautiful no matter what. And so is everyone else. It’s figuring out how to teach them not just to accept themselves but to love themselves and others. And it’s hard because I’m not all the way there with myself yet.

I think for my whole life I’ve been very body accepting. I was raised to love the person not the body, to look at a person’s character and choices rather than their outward appearance. (In fact, the first bible verse my mother ever had me learn was Proverbs 11:22 (Message translation) “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful face on an empty head.”) I took these messages to heart. I accepted that my appearance didn’t matter as much as my personality and accomplishments.

Thing is, there’s more to this than acceptance. There’s body positivity. Sure, I could always tell you that I have nice hair. I could pick out features of mine that someone might consider attractive. The difference here is that I didn’t feel proud of my body. My shape was just something that I had to accept.

I have always been a bit bigger. I was the roundest baby – my rolls had rolls. I was never one of the skinny girls, even when I was really young I had some curve to me. I grew and went through puberty young. By 11 years old I was my full height and already had a C cup. It sucked at the time but I realized there was nothing I could do to change this. I was going to be busty and curvy and I was just going to live with it. I was a D cup by grade 8 and larger by the end of high school. Shirts that fit were nearly impossible to buy because if they would be big enough to house the girls, they were too big everywhere else.

Something changed about how I view my body around 7 years ago. I got pregnant with my first baby and suddenly my body was about something different. My body was about growing a human being. My body stretched and changed and just over 6 years ago I laboured and delivered the most beautiful person I had ever laid eyes on. She was goopy and screaming and round all over and perfect and my body made her. Then because she was hungry my body fed her. And over the next year and a half when she was hungry or sad or crabby or tired or snuggly or miserable or hurting my body could soothe her. I found it so empowering and self-comforting being able to personally fix anything for my child. It wasn’t about me – these breasts that I was so frustrated with could fix anything for her. And so it was for my son born two years after her. And so it is for my son born three years after him.

And somewhere in there I started to love them a little. They aren’t just flesh bags on my body that I have to tolerate. They are a part of me. A part that some find attractive. They are a part of me that I wouldn’t have if I weren’t a bit bigger all over. Also during this time I have learned better what to do with them. I have gotten properly sized (with the help of a friend who learned to be proud of hers first) and I know when the fancy bra store has sales. I have learned which brands make clothes that fit my body more comfortably.

And so it is that this is the “What’s Your Excuse?” response that I had. (I had another that I submitted that is not boob-based but I thought this was important to share as well as this is one of the bigger struggles I’ve had on my way towards personal body positivity)

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