I hate to admit this, but it starts young.
I remember the first time my daughter called herself fat. She was only 5 years old. Was it me? I tried to not mention my bodyweight or anyone else’s in front of her. I tried to praise her and other people on intangibles or accessories like all of the parenting books say to do. “You are wonderful because you are thoughtful,” I’d tell her. “I love the necklace you chose to wear today!”
But still. The negativity seeped in. I don’t know how, but it crept its way into her brain.
She is a teen now, and we still talk about body image daily. I tell her my favorite J.K. Rowling quote about body image:
Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.
I tell her that she is beautiful the way that she is. Perfectly made.
But still. I worry that she doesn’t believe me nor my reassurance.
Oddly enough, you know who she does believe? Movie stars. She is finally at an age where we love to stay up late together and watch movies long after her brothers are in bed.
It is awesome bonding time, and I have been trying to choose movies that have positive messages about body image occasionally (between teenage romances like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). I like to give her sideways glances and see-I-told-you-so looks when the main character learns to love her perfectly imperfect teen self.
Here are 3 of the movies that have started the best conversations between my daughter and myself:
This Netflix teen love story has all of the trappings of a teen romance, love triangle included. But it also has characters who have a hard time accepting themselves as they are for a myriad of reasons.
Our conversation afterward was that each person struggles with something about themselves, but it only as big of a deal as we make it out to be. We are all beautiful in our own way, and we need to believe that about ourselves and about other people.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
I love this movie. And these books. I might be biased. But seriously: the whole premise of this movie is how this magical pair of pants fits for different bodies. Admittedly, the girls in the movie are all Hollywood gorgeous. However, they struggle with body insecurity, loss, pain, and feelings of inferiority.
Our discussion after viewing this movie centered around how sometimes it is hard to see how beautiful we are. Sometimes we need a lens to see ourselves through like family and good friends (or perhaps a magic pair of pants) to realize how genuinely amazing we are.
This Netflix movie about a Texas girl who joins a beauty pageant is an obvious choice for a body-positive movie to watch with a teenager. Willowdean Dickson decides to defy beauty pageant stereotypes to show that there is more than one definition of beautiful. Just like in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, we see how important good friends can be in helping to build self-esteem.
After this movie, we talked about how important it is that teens have good role models (Willowdean’s grandmother in the movie), and how important it is that we love ourselves. Most importantly, we talked about how we need not compare our bodies to other bodies and measure them against some sort of arbitrary standard. We are all different. That is how it is supposed to be. We should celebrate that.
I am thankful for these movies for starting difficult conversations. I am thankful to the people who make these films for showing young people that it isn’t just their mom’s opinion because they are truly beautiful just the way they are.