Till now, throughout the Body Positivity Project, we have discussed the various stigmas surrounding the “ideal body”, battle of mind and body, need for acceptance, and some amazing advice given from personal experience on taking the path towards self by women with diverse backgrounds. Having done that, how can we forget the root of it all? The place it all stems from. So, today on the blog, we have Bunny McFadden, a Chicana mother, doctoral candidate, and activist educator living in Zurich, Switzerland – sharing the need for Education on Body Positivity at the early stages of any person’s life.
Why Start Young?
Young people are like sponges. They soak up everything around them.
It’s how their brains work. As a youth’s prefrontal cortex develops, experimenting with social behavior and personality traits gives them a chance to try on different identities. It’s why teens are notorious for testing limits, and why children love to play dress-up. Our brains are curious things. So if you work with children, whether you’re a dance coach or a language tutor, you know they often end up absorbing what you say and do.
Sometimes this ends up being hilarious. We’ve all seen those darling videos of a baby babbling a naughty word, or a kiddo toddling around in high heels or work boots. As a parent, I’ve snapped a ton of photos of my goofy children imitating Mom and Dad. As an educator, though, the responsibility of being a powerful influence makes me feel like I’m walking through quicksand.
When I was a kid, I observed the world around me like it was my job. If you think about it, it kind of is. Children observe. That’s how they learn, pedagogically speaking. So what happens when they observe you talking poorly about your body?
One of the most important tools we have as educators is storytelling. When we tell our stories, especially the thorny ones, we give children a model for how to process the world around us. It’s why I’ve decided to tell my story as an eating disorder survivor.
The Onset of Diet Culture in Childhood
Like many women my age, I distinctly remember watching Oprah’s yo-yo diet. She looked so tragic in her closet, holding up the gorgeous cocktail dress that didn’t zip up anymore. It wasn’t the only time I saw someone hating their body; in fact, diet culture was everywhere. From my teachers reluctant to touch the cookies from Staff Appreciation Week to girls softly blotting the grease from their pizza in the lunchroom, it seemed obvious that dieting was an essential part of becoming a grownup.
Diet culture is the notion that our weight is more important than our souls or ideas.
The Need for Body Positivity in Education | My Swiss Story
The Consequences of Diet Culture on Young minds
Personally, it directly contributed to the development of my disordered eating as I went through puberty. Looking back, I’m armed with therapy and research; I’m trained to observe the ways that diet culture sneaks up in subtle ways. But as a kid, I had no protection against the words I overheard.
I became fixated on my weight. I’d secretly type in search terms about which foods had negative calories and which exercises were the quietest to do so that nobody caught on that I was exercising after bedtime. I’d stare at outfit photos that served as something called “thinspo”, a mix of thinness and inspiration that normalizes disordered eating. Dieting swiftly spiraled, taking over my entire life.
How can we incorporate Body Positivity in Education?
1) You do not need to change your body in order to be lovable
When we talk about body positivity in education, the outward conversation tends to be about nutrition, exercise, and fitness. The hidden message we’re unintentionally giving kids is that we need to change our bodies to make ourselves loveable. Being body positive is not about the food we plop on our plates or the hikes we rush through to reach the peak. In fact, it’s the opposite. Body positivity is about taking a moment to appreciate my body, especially all the ways that make my body different from anyone else. It means honoring and recognizing every part of us, from freckled skin to crowns of braided hair, bodies that take up space, and hands that push wheelchairs or manage crutches.
2) Model body positive language
Every person who interacts with children has an opportunity to model body-positive language. There’s no good way to completely shelter a young person from diet culture, so we need to change our strategy. We can’t hide. Just as we wear goggles in the lab and warm gloves in the winter, we can use the power of self talk to arm ourselves against all the ways the world can hurt our confidence.
3) Start with a simple conversation
Things don’t change overnight; even wildflowers need time to grow. We can cultivate a body-positive outlook by consciously bringing up how we talk about our bodies. Here are a few conversation starters you can comfortably use with any age range:
- Tell me something you like about your body.
- If you could tell your younger self something, what would you say?
- What’s something new you want to try or learn to do with your body?
- What’s going to be the best part about becoming a grownup?
Today, I’m an adult who fights every day to love my body in a world full of people quietly hating the mirror. I look back on all of those years of angst and heartache, and I’m glad I don’t have to lock horns with my body anymore. It never fully goes away, but I am a survivor. There is hope living in these bones and flesh.
It’s 2021. The sun is shining outside my office window, and birds herald the beginning of spring. I look down at my body, remembering all the times I made it my enemy, and I whisper, “I’m sorry. I won’t do that to you again.” And I mean it.
Bunny McFadden is a Chicana mother, doctoral candidate, and activist educator living in Zurich, Switzerland. She runs an independent education equity consultancy and is also a co-founder of the Center for Equity and Justice. She is also in recovery from disordered eating. You can find more at docbunny.com or network4equity.org.
Are you enjoying our content? We would love to hear your opinions in the comments sections. Stay tuned for our April posts, cuz spring is finally here. We will continue to talk about body positivity, health, happiness, ex-pat, and travel tips.
To read posts from March, click here