I've never been a fan of children per se. My 17-year-old sister and I have always been the youngest in our family, so I attribute my extreme awkwardness around them to that. However, young children can teach us a lot about body positivity, what with their tendency to be fearlessly unapologetic when it comes to their presentations and bodies. Watching elementary school-aged youngsters speak in ways totally devoid of self-consciousness is incredibly inspiring for someone who is as crippled by social anxiety and body image hang-ups as I sometimes am.
I often find myself envying the way children are so ignorant to beauty expectations and the gender binary. But when feeling this way, I stop the thoughts in their tracks and remember a younger, more carefree Meg who wasn't obsessing over the way their belly looked or the ways in which femininity felt limiting to them. Although life has a way of making us feel jaded, it's ultimately our choice whether or not we want to take steps towards radical self acceptance.
It's certainly difficult to maintain body positivity in this self-hate-inspiring culture, but using our elementary school selves as inspiration can be helpful in staying motivated on our paths to self love. Here are some things our younger selves can teach us about body positivity.
1. Be As Loud & Goofy As You Want
Children's inability to see outside of themselves can serve as a great lesson for self-conscious adults who want to be more relaxed in social settings. Being confident in your skin while expressing emotion or being silly is a helpful part of cultivating self-love. After all, we need to remember to stay playful — be it through taking funny face pictures, running naked through fields of flowers, or playing dress-up — and release stress from our busy days without the fear of judgment holding us back.
2. Move Your Body However You Want To
Kids do a lot of flailing and dancing, and often make a wide array of silly faces. They're not usually concerned with the way their thighs or bellies look while in a seated position, or whether the face they made in that picture didn't look sexy enough. So why should you be? Don't hold back from engaging in fun activities or exercise just because you're nervous about how your body might look.
3. Forget "Flattering"
Kids couldn't usually care less about what's "flattering" and what isn't. Personally, all I cared about as a child was that my clothes had my favorite cartoon characters on them. I have a lot of Rugrats-related ensembles to show for it.
4. Wear All The Colors
Children can serve as a great reminder that getting dressed in the morning should, above all, be a fun time. As a kid, I never worried about matching or clashing. Rather, I was preoccupied with wearing and owning as many blue-colored garments and velvet-covered outfits as I could manage to find. Rock your favorite hue or print more often, even if it feels childish or "unflattering."
5. Spend Time With Your Naked Body
My younger sister (that's her up there) was always naked as a child, spontaneously ripping her clothing off at family events once she'd had enough of her party dress. That comfort with nudity has translated into her young adult life, as she remains happy in her nude body by herself or in the presence of others.
Take a cue from the kiddies in your life, and spend a weekend at home in your underwear (or in nothing at all). Becoming comfortable with looking at and existing in your nude body is a huge part on many people's journeys towards body positivism.
6. Be Fascinated By Your Body, Rather Than Disgusted
Children are endlessly fascinated by the new discoveries they make regarding the ways their bodies look and move. Whether it be a birth mark, a frizzy head of hair, or a gap between their teeth, these discoveries are often treated with wonder and honor rather than disgust and shame. I try to appreciate the little things I notice about my body every day, without the judgment that is so characteristic of adults.
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7. Be Unashamed Of Your Bodily Functions
So many people, specifically women, are taught to be disgusted by natural bodily functions like farts and periods. However, when we're very young, we tend to think everything is either hilarious or endlessly cool. Because of that, I try my best to look at farts as the undeniably funny thing that they are, and to look at my monthly period as the trippy miracle it actually is.
8. Don't Be So Conscious Of Gender Differences
Younger kids don't always reflect the gender binary in how they look or dress, since they are initially largely ignorant to these expectations. Little boys constantly giggle with high voices while little girls raid their father's closets for a game of dress-up. Since gender is arguably a silly construct anyway, we can choose to reflect that blissful unawareness of gender standards in how we dress and act as adults.
9. Remember To Reflect Body Positivity Onto Others
A big part of being body positive is also applying your personal philosophy to those around you, and expanding your learned definition of beauty. Kids by nature are super nonjudgmental, and accepting to anyone who simply takes the time to play or connect with them. Try to take their lead and ease up on your harsh judgment of others — be it their fashion choices, lifestyles, political views, or preferred character on Broad City. Being less critical of those around you might just help being body positive to yourself that much easier.
10. Have An Open Mind About Beauty
Beauty standards are obsolete, since they are ever-changing and differ culture to culture. But luckily, children are largely unaware of these standards (until, of course, they're taught by the media and those around them that they shouldn't be). Try to approach your perception of beauty through a child's eyes, and be willing to redefine the word for yourself and others.
11. Don't Dress For Anyone But Yourself
Between gender constraints and the pressure of dressing in a way that will keep me safe from street harassment, the way I dress is certainly limited by certain people and fears. However, with kids being less aware of the gender binary and the way society expects people of their gender to dress, they don't often wear things with the concern of what others might think in the back of their minds.
Of course, children are usually being dressed by their parents. But that doesn't mean they pay any mind to whether or not the garment is "flattering" or impressive. Protecting yourself from being affected by outside influences might seem idealistic. But with lots of work, it can become a reality. My advice is to start each morning asking yourself, "Does this outfit actually make me happy?" and go from there.
Our elementary school selves represent a time in our lives during which most of us weren't quite as absorbed in our body image issues or the oppressive beauty standards that make little to no sense. So when I feel like I'm in a rut regarding self love, I remember 5-year-old Meg and how carefree and unaware they were. Although children can be annoying to be around at times, the ways they deal with their bodies and aesthetics are very inspiring for anyone looking to embrace a bit more body positivity in their lives.
Images: Pexels; Courtesy Jess Zulch