I may live with a houseful of boys, but they’re still relatively young, so there are no nudie mags stashed between mattresses, no stealthily accessed porn sites that someone forgot to erase out of the internet history, or anything like that — yet.
I’d love to pretend my kids won’t be curious (I mean, if I had my druthers, a sexual thought wouldn’t even cross their minds until they’re like 25), but I’m well aware that won’t be the case. Those things are looming and will probably start happening much sooner than I’d like.
But before all that happens — before they start to notice pictures of boobs that are as round and firm as cantaloupes, and of taut, airbrushed, dimple-less butts — I’m exposing them to a different kind of female body: mine.
Ours is not a modest household. I don’t lounge around in the buff, and I spend more time saying, “Put on some pants!” than anything else. But I’ve never refrained from changing clothes in front of them, leaving the door open when I shower, or nursing my babies without a cover, because I want them to see what a real female body looks like.
If I don’t, and their first images of a naked woman are the impossibly perfect physiques in those magazines or those movies, what kind of expectations will they have as adults? More importantly, what woman could ever live up to them?
I’m dismayed, big-time, by my post-baby body. But for the sake of my boys (and my future daughters-in-law), I lie through my teeth and never let them see that I’m anything less than confident about it. When they ask about my stretch marks, I tell them proudly how growing a baby is hard work and they’re like badges I’ve earned. (Gaming references always hit home with dudes, no matter what you’re explaining.)
As much as I’d like to cringe and shrink away when they touch my squishy belly, I let them squeeze my flab between their fingers. Do I hate it? Yes. I want to say, “Leave my fat alone!” and run tearfully for the nearest oversized T-shirt (or, like, the nearest liposuction clinic).
But I don’t, because for right now, for these few formative years, my flab is their one and only perception of the female body. Right now, it belongs to the woman they admire most. They see nothing imperfect about it, and that’s beautiful.
I tell them how strong my body is, and they see me work out. They see me make healthy food choices but still indulge in my love of baked goods. And though, like most women, I might beat myself up over my jeans getting too tight or groan in frustration at the numbers on the scale, I’m never anything but proud of my body in front of my boys, even when I feel the complete opposite inside.
Instilling a positive body image is not an issue reserved for people with daughters. And for boys, it’s not only making them confident about their own bodies, but letting them know that real is beautiful when it comes to the opposite sex.
I don’t want to do them, or any women they might happen to see naked in the future, the disservice of telling them that saggy boobs are bad or that a little bit of flab is something to be ashamed of. I want them to know that this is the norm — not the nipped, tucked, and digitally enhanced images they’re going to be bombarded with.
Sure, they’ll be distracted by those bouncy boobies and flat stomachs and perky butts, but I have hope that deep down inside, they’ll know that isn’t the standard to which they should hold women’s bodies (like, ever).
There will come a time when I cover up when they’re around. I’m sure at some point I’ll hear, “Ugh, Mom, put some clothes on!” or they’ll learn to knock before barging into the bathroom (which sounds heavenly, I’m not gonna lie).
But until then, I’ll let them run their little fingers along my stretch marks, and grin and bear it when they squeal with delighted laughter at the way my butt jiggles when I walk across the room to grab a towel.
But for now, while they’re young, I want to plant the seed — so that when they’re older and their wives say, “I wish my thighs were smaller,” my sons will say, “They’re perfect just the way they are.”
And they’ll mean it.