Rediscovering the Power of Body Positivity How a Friend’s Comment about my Toddler’s Chunky Legs taught me an Invaluable Lesson

Rediscovering the Power of Body Positivity My Toddler's Chunky Legs Taught Me a Valuable Lesson

The Fascinating World of Fashion, Parents, and Ice Cream

Virginia Sole-Smith wearing a coral cardigan with scalloped neckline Courtesy of Gabrielle Gerard

Once upon a summer day, amidst the sweet aroma of ice cream, I found myself face-to-face with an old family friend, Barbara. Now, as any adult would do, Barbara couldn’t resist the urge to comment on my precious daughters, aged 5 and not quite 2. Of course, this involved a meticulous examination of their evolving bodies, as if decoding some secret prophecy of their future selves.

Barbara’s eyes darted up and down, and then she spoke. “Oh, I love Violet’s long ballerina legs,” she exclaimed dramatically. But there was a pause, a moment of self-doubt before she looked at her own reflection. With a hint of despair, she muttered, “Hmm, let’s see, do I have ballerina legs? I think I have Beatrix legs! Short and chunky!”

Feeling a bit awkward, I interjected, “I think… they both have great legs?” The girls, oblivious to the commentary, sprawled in the grass, chocolate ice cream dripping everywhere, their legs extended in front of us. Violet’s legs were undeniably long and delicate, while Beatrix had irresistibly squishy toddler thighs. We diverted the conversation to vacation plans, leaving behind any further discussion of our bodies or those of my children.

But, deep down, I wondered how that one seemingly innocuous comment had seeped into their young minds.

The Quest for the “Right” Kind of Body

As Beatrix was just starting to form sentences, I didn’t worry too much about her picking up Barbara’s woes about chunky legs… for now. However, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that recent research has revealed children as young as three associate fat bodies, even fat legs, with negative traits. And my daughter, Violet, was old enough to understand this.

Now, you might argue that Violet received a compliment, so what’s the harm? She possessed the “right” kind of legs, as deemed by our dear friend and the world. But let me tell you, I, too, was a thin child once. I reveled in the envy adults felt towards my body, and for the most part, I felt pretty good about it… until my body changed.

Picture this: it was the late ‘90s, the era of Britney Spears’ exposed torso, Delia’s catalog, Kate Moss and heroin chic, halter crop tops, and low-rise jeans. I stood in an Abercrombie & Fitch changing room, bewildered, as my waist dared to curve out over the waistband, while other girls’ waists curved in. Suddenly, this unique part of my body seemed wrong.

But here’s the thing. This obsessing over waists, arms, collarbones, and legs is not a new phenomenon. Our culture, dominated by whiteness and patriarchy, slices bodies, especially girls’, into a series of idealized shapes — all smooth, taut, hairless, and, above all, thin. We are conditioned to have precise expectations about how each of these body parts should appear and to believe they should always look that way.

The Value Equation: Children and Their Bodies

We unintentionally teach our children to equate their worth with their body size, although we ourselves know firsthand that body size is a mercurial thing. Growing up to have a different shape from our childhood selves becomes a personal failure, turning our bodies into hostile, unruly foes.

Complimenting a thin child only reinforces the notion that thin bodies triumph over fat bodies. That’s exactly why I couldn’t find the words to elaborate further with Barbara, because this belief is deeply rooted in our collective psyche.

Body positivity is not a simple lesson to impart. It requires us to embrace the idea that thin bodies and fat bodies possess equal value. We must recognize that humans have always come in a beautiful tapestry of sizes, celebrating the mosaic of body diversity. It means challenging what we thought we knew about health, beauty, and morality.

So, my fellow fashion enthusiasts, let us embark on this journey together. Let’s shatter the misconceptions of body superiority and relish in the kaleidoscope of shapes and sizes that make us who we are. Remember, your body is your canvas, and you have the power to redefine beauty for yourself and future generations.

Excerpted from “Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture” (Macmillan Publishers, April 25, 2023). Reprinted with permission from Macmillan Publishers.

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Have you ever encountered well-meaning adults who just couldn’t resist scrutinizing the bodies of young children? Virginia Sole-Smith, our fabulous fashion guru, shares her experience in the whimsical world of compliments and ice cream. From ballerina legs to the ’90s body obsession, this enchanting tale unfolds, beckoning us to embark on a whimsical journey where body positivity reigns supreme! So grab a scoop of your favorite flavor and dive into the captivating realm of “Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture.” Let’s challenge the status quo and celebrate the beautiful tapestry of diverse bodies together!