*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…)