“Love your children, celebrate their bodies; they are beautiful.” His words echo in my mind as our children struggle with body image and self-acceptance. Affirming our children is so important even when they cannot see it in themselves. On the other hand, body shaming is not.
I had a delightful conversation with a group of parents of children who are transgender. Each had children of different ages, and we were all in varying stages of our parenting journey. One of the moms described having gone to the beach with her young children and a couple of friends. As they prepare to leave, she pauses, her mother’s words echoing in her ears, “you all have the same parts, just hop in and change out of your sandy clothes.” The woman panics. She had her child change in the back and the other children in front of the vehicle. Other parents chimed in with similar issues with car camping.
To clarify, body shaming is a tricky monster that can slip in without intention. I can certainly relate to the story described and my bias as a parent of a younger child who identifies as transgender. All these years later, I can see another side I was blinded to all those years ago.
To protect our children, we can inadvertently cause shame. We do it with our cisgender children as well. Body shaming is part of chaste and piety. In my life, I remember going from being a little person to someone who had to change behind closed doors and was no longer allowed to shower with or near my parents. As the parent of a transgender child, I do not place those restrictions on our children (I’m sure sometimes they wish I did- ha!). Showers and bath time are for cleaning; we shouldn’t shame our kids or force them to hide.
Children are sexualized from a very young age, especially our children who identify as trans and gender diverse. From the youngest ages, bathrooms and locker rooms are suddenly breeding grounds for groomers and pedophiles. Remember that our four, five, and six-year-old children are just that- children. Sexuality is not present until sex hormones kick in for these children or your cis children. Bathrooms are for peeing and sometimes changing. Creating shame around bathrooms and bodies is harmful regardless of a person’s age.
I ask this: be mindful of the words and actions you choose when segregating your child from others. Think carefully about avoiding body shaming, especially in your home. Be comfortable with the fact that some girls have penises, and some boys have vulvas. I am not suggesting that we intentionally expose our children’s bodies to their peers or expose them or others to create conversation. To sum up, I am simply cautioning all parents to consider the power of shame in relation to their body image and do what they can to avoid doing the same to their children.