Bias comes in many shapes and forms, even in our own subconscious. This Sassy Mama shares how she’s raising her girls to change the narrative, with three little words – “bodies are cool!”
Probably like too many people reading this, I have spent most of my life intensely disliking my body. Decades upon decades of diet culture and unrealistic beauty standards have meant it’s always felt like a “work in progress”, no matter how far I’ve pushed it, pinched it, squeezed it, or starved it into submission.
I’ve spent a lifetime listening to loved ones talk about everything they hate about themselves — “I’m fat”, “I’m old”, “I’m short”, “I’m pale” — pressured by the same biases and stereotypes about what it means to be “just right”. I was made to feel that my physical features are the biggest measure of my worth, and if there is less of me, I will be perceived as more disciplined, more focused, and more desirable.
Every time I momentarily stopped panicking about the shape, size, or texture of my body, something or someone would remind me that I was all wrong, and back down the spiral I’d go. The amount of time, money, and energy I have wasted in trying to change myself keeps me awake at night now. Because looking back, it was just that — such a waste.
Two Unique Girls
I have the privilege of parenting two unique daughters, which has caused something to click into a new, more positive gear—with them in mind. My youngest daughter, Novah, has a form of dwarfism called Cartilage Hair Hypoplasia. She could be as little as 3ft tall as an adult, and has an additional symptom of fine, sparse blonde hair because she lacks a protein that supports growth.
“The feminine “beauty ideals” of long legs and long locks are not in her future.”
Not that any of that matters—she is out-of-this-world beautiful, and I am proud beyond all belief of who she is. In fact, I am in awe of her. My eldest, Yan-Ting, came home to us in November 2020. Adopted here in Hong Kong, she is ethnically Chinese, with a beaming smile, luscious hair like Teflon that pushes out of any hair-tie, and endless (endless!) energy. She’s so gorgeous that the day we met her, I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be her mum.
As they get older, I know that the ridiculous toxicity that lurks around every corner for women will come for them. I want to make sure they’re armed and ready to tackle it with confidence I never had—but more than that, I want to make sure I’m raising them to never judge the body of anyone else, and to be excited and inspired by the diversity all around them.
Diversity Is A Superpower
It is estimated that there have been 107 billion human beings since the dawn of time. That’s 107 billion different ways to be a human. The variety is mind-blowing. But deconstructing the world around you with a critical lens and being able to share lessons about healthy body image, body neutrality, and body appreciation with children is no small feat!
As a disability advocate, I don’t believe in trying to “ignore” someone’s differences.
“The idea is not to pretend someone’s appearance, or way of moving, behaving, or communicating is not different, but to recognise that this is not a metric or a value of their worth as a human being.”
A Child’s Point Of View
The beautiful thing about children is that they don’t see things with the same tainted lenses that we do as jaded adults. Case in point: a recent chat I had with Yan-Ting. My very generously proportioned bum has always been a huge source of shame to me, and I’ve felt embarrassed about it since I can remember. Yan-Ting—using it as a drum—asked, “Mum, when I’m a grown-up, will I have a big bum like you?” to which I replied, “Maybe you will, but I think you probably won’t.” To which she looked down, and in deep thought muttered,
“I hope I have a big bum… then I won’t fall in the toilet.” Genius!
And an added benefit I hadn’t considered before!
We all have a body. Some are tall, some are short, some are fat, some are thin, some are fast, some are slow… the list goes on. In our family, we have decided to shift the perception of what is “normal” to raise our girls to not judge themselves or others on their bodies.
“Children are not born with bias; they’re taught it. So how do you teach your child the opposite? Well, we started with three simple words: BODIES ARE COOL.”
Bodies Are Cool!
A friend opened my eyes to this fantastic phrase earlier this year, by recommending the book, BODIES ARE COOL by Tyler Feder. This colourful, vibrant picture book is the absolute best book I have ever encountered for teaching kids about diversity—and I have scoured the internet and every library looking!
The book rhymes and has beautiful, bold, and detailed illustrations on every page, which capture more diversity than any other picture book I’ve read. Its words are so catchy and upbeat: “Big bodies, small bodies, dancing, playing, happy bodies! Look at all these different bodies! Bodies are cool!” Novah and Yan-Ting just love it. They pore over the pages, excited to ask questions about all the different people depicted, imagining their stories, and finding those who share their own characteristics. Novah will ask “Is that a little person like me?” while Yan-Ting will say “She has my same hair!” It should be essential reading for all children (and grown-ups, to be honest).
A Glimmer Of Hope For An Inclusive Future
As a family, we don’t shy away from conversations about disability, race, or gender. The mantra “BODIES ARE COOL” has empowered us to raise children who are body neutral about themselves and others, while also being open to the fact that everyone is different.
“Novah has told me that a friend of hers who is non-verbal came up and said “Hello”. When I asked, a bit confused, “Did she say ‘hello’ with words?” she said, “No Mum, she came up and touched my head, because that’s how she says ‘hello’.”
Those moments make me feel like there’s hope yet. I can’t say I always get it right, or that I’m in a place where I’m totally neutral about my own body. But having conversations about all the ways bodies move, communicate, look, and change is something I am passionate about — it’s how we build a more inclusive, understanding, and accepting future. Learning from the way our children see the world is how we’ll get there.
A woman with a limb difference recently walked past us on the street. Yan-Ting turned to me and said, “Mum, that woman has very small arms.” To which I replied, “Yes, you’re right, she does have very small arms.” Ting then smiled and said, as naturally as breathing, “Bodies are cool.”.
All images courtesy of Cruzanne Macalligan.