The Danger of Telling Our Kids to
“Accept Themselves" as They Are.
By Marco Girgenti
“Mary” is 14, has a keen mind and a wonderful personality. She goes to a middle class school and attends all the classes with the exception of swimming class, where she is often absent. When she does attend, she wears a 2-piece bathing suit. Mary’s mom has encouraged her to accept and love herself as she is… but Mary is obese. She hates her body, how she feels around others and how she is looked at.
Mary’s mom is sending a dangerous message.
Before I go on here, I want to remind you that I have lost well over 100 Lb and have raised a child who was diagnosed autistic. I say this not to try to impress you, but to assure you that I am fully acquainted with body image issues and not fitting in - and I don’t just mean not fitting into a bathing suit. I could have “accepted myself” all the way into type 2 diabetes (I was on the cusp of this) and a life of limited physical mobility and I could have “lovingly” dragged my son along to accepting himself as overweight, which he also was earlier on. Would that have been “love” and “acceptance,” ignorance, or just being lazy and irresponsible?
Are We Teaching Our Kids to Settle?
Back to Mary, who is caught in a trap of wanting to please her mother, but not able please herself. Her mom says she is fine the way she is, but Mary can’t stand herself. Yes, of course Mary’s mom probably loves her daughter very much, but what she is not considering is what will happen to Mary 10, 20, and even 30 years from now. As a parent, this is something I have had to grapple with personally as I considered what the seeds I sowed into my son’s life in the early stages of dealing with autism would eventually sprout in his young adult life.
Teaching kids to believe in themselves is so very important, but compromise and “settling” often finds its way into our lives masquerading as misfired compassion and a refusal to fight for what you really want and oh, the damage can reach far beyond mere physical weight and into the type of defeatist attitudes that haunt our kids as they advance in years. Then you wind up with “grown up” versions of the same issues.
As a parent, we should consider asking our children how they “feel” and not necessarily inflicting our own strong, opinionated views on them. If Mary expresses to her mom her discontent and unhappiness in being overweight, then perhaps mom should consider taking a different and more supportive approach of her daughter’s views. Stop buying her favourite junk foods (dangerous love language), stop eating at fast food restaurants, get her into a community center or gym facility and get her some personal training that will empower her to learn safe and effective training techniques and create accountability. Go for walks or nature hikes as a family and seek out activities that are active and fun – all ways to send positive reinforcement and form healthy lifelong habits.
“The Mary In Your Life”
When you see someone obese in their adult years perhaps with type 2 diabetes or some other type of obesity related limitation, suffering in their own body and finding it difficult to move, probably feeling embarrassed, you are coming face to face with the “Mary” in your life, 20, 30 years after her mom’s message sunk in and taken root: “You are beautiful, you are fine the way you are.” Among other things, Mary is seriously confused now as she wears the 2 piece, with her stomach falling over the top and nearly spilling onto her legs, to appease her mother while feeling self-conscious as she is ridiculed by her peers, which compels her to forge notes to excuse her absence from swimming class.
HOW IS THAT MESSAGE OF “ACCEPT YOURSELF AS YOU ARE, MARY” looking now?
“It’s What’s On The Inside That Counts,” Right?
Now I agree, self-worth and value are what we are made of on the inside. There are skinny/fit people who are jerks and some who are lovely, but this is not about personality, this is about not taking action as parents to get our kids MOVING and making healthy choices, because it falls ON US to train our kids up in the right way so that when they are older, they will not depart from these ways. (Proverbs 22:6) Whether you read the Bible or not, this is outstanding advice.
If you have a child, or for that matter, a spouse who is suffering internally because of not being happy with the fact that they are overweight and are feeling terrible about it, STOP, I beg you STOP telling them that they are “okay,” and “lovely the way they are.” It is one of the cruelest things we could do as parents/spouses.
No, I did not say you should criticize them for the way the look; that is not love in its finest manifestation either. I am not saying an obese person is not a person of integrity, a best friend to someone, a genius or a wonderful parent or that all worth lies in the look of the person’s body; that would be ridiculous. I was a size 56 and still had my integrity, intelligence, talents and honour in tact. I did not love my son any less and I contributed to the lives of people from the inside out as many of us do, but I HATED the way I felt and looked.
This is not about judging people based on appearance, it is about giving them the best chance at a long and healthy life.
Empower your child. Educate them about health. Teach them how to read food labels and that yes, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but that the best chance for a healthy mind and body comes from what you feed these, in the form of words or food.
Plant your crops, the seeds you sow into your child’s mind wisely because it is not only you who will reap, it is your child who takes your words as gospel and in an attempt to please you, will water them every day of his or her life, be it conscious or subconsciously.
What the crop yields, is at least initially in the hands of the farmer. Your child is the soil into which you sow. Give them the best chance to flourish with the right seeds and set optimal conditions (as in the case of a farmer with water, sun, soil, etc.) around them for a healthy harvest.