What Body Image Should Really Be About

body image
Body image isn’t just about weight. It’s about confidence. Photo credit: Facebook; Whitney Way Thore

It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. That means we’ve been inundated by news segments, blog posts, and videos on both eating disorders and body image in general. While I think it’s extremely important, there’s one thing that stands out to me over and over again: it’s all about the girls. Boys deserve to have good body image, too. At least they should be able to appreciate it enough not to be the ones judging others or making others feel uncomfortable because of their weight. I don’t think boys should be excluded from the focus of body image campaigns, but I also don’t think body image programs should be focusing so hard on weight.

The Today Show hosted a #loveyourselfie catwalk this morning, and the one smiling face that stood out among the rest was that of Whitney Way Thore. You may remember her from the Fat Girl Dancing video. This girl oozes confidence. She’s the type of role model I’d want for my daughter if I had one — not for the topic of weight, but for feeling good about yourself: confident, proud, important, worthy. Honestly those are things I want my son to learn, too. The point of the mini-fashion show was to promote self-love and good body image, but when I see Whitney strut herself and dance her heart out in her videos, I see more than a message about body image. I see a message about loving who you are, beyond appearances and outward perceptions. She just looks like she’s loving life and living it up, and that’s a quality I can only hope my son grows up to have. It doesn’t matter what he looks like, what he weighs, whether he plays sports or joins a band, goes to law school or tours the world. What matters is that he’s having a good time with his life and is feeling good about himself.

I feel like that’s a much harder thing to teach than math or science, history or language arts. You can tell somebody how to lose or gain weight or how to get in shape, but it’s not easy to simply tell someone to be confident and take pride in themselves. That has to be learned through demonstration and role modeling. That means I have to be confident, proud, and happy with life, or else he’ll never learn.

He’s going to go through a lot of hard times in his life, no matter how hard I try to protect him from hurt or anger, but if he can have a solid outlook and be comfortable in his own skin, he’ll be able to bounce back and remain resilient. To me, that’s what body image awareness is about. Yes, accepting physical appearance for whatever it may be is important, but so is teaching kids how to be proud of what’s on the inside and letting it show through the outside.

I’m not saying weight and health isn’t important, but pushing for “acceptance” of different sizes and appearances only touches on half of the battle. One of the #loveyourselfie features on the same installment of The Today Show focused on a teen who’s pushing Disney to have a “plus size” princess. While I would also like to see that, it’s still going to stand out as something different. The confidence-beyond-appearance part of the equation, while harder, is where the real emphasis should be.