How do we best gauge the messages we send our boys about their bodies?
I can already see my son at 17, a sweet soul with floppy curls and ski pants: the size of a football player with ski poles instead of shoulder pads. I can see his confidence on stage and his ease at making friends. What I can’t envision is how he’ll view his physical self or others.
At almost 8, I’m already worried:
I chop my hair off. My son says, ” You look like a boy.”
I look through the review mirror. My son says, ” I wish you were skinny.”
I argue with him before swimming, “But it hurts Mom!”
He stands uncomfortably in his bathing suit, ” I’m so fat.”
My athletic husband starts Nutrisystem for his own reasons. “Why is Daddy dieting? He’s not fat.”
Messages. Messages. Messages–thrown at my son.
Some messages are good: his school is a big fuzzy hug. His father thinks I’m delicious.
But other messages are a mystery. Who is telling him he’s fat? Who is telling him I’m fat?
Why does he care?
I try to inquire, but, just like a boy, he refuses to speak. He finds my questioning intrusive.
But, I’m lost. How do I give confidence to my son, who at almost 8 looks almost 12? Whose limbs are like tree trunks and whose giant puppy hands and feet reveal a future height like his 6’4″ father. He has my eyes, my thick curly hair, my sister’s olive skin and freckles, but he won’t grow into me. My speech on thighs and bellies, boobs and hips that I’ve prepared for my daughter means nothing to my son.
It’s lost in the translation of gender.
It’s lost in the biology of his Y chromosome.
My own family history and failures of food and my own inability to separate health from body image hinder my abilities to find the right words for the right speech. I know what to give to my daughter. But what do I give to my son?
I’ve spent so much time worrying about how he’ll treat women. I’ve forgotten to teach him how to treat himself.
This piece originally appeared on GirlBodyPride.com