Do As I Say AND As I Do: 4 Tips to Help Your Son Have Healthy Body Image
This post is part four of a four-part series.
Another story from my teaching days.
The topic was marriage. I split the class into boys and girls and sent the two groups off with a task: Brainstorm a list of characteristics that you think are important in a potential spouse. The students were to organize their lists into traits that were “required,” traits that “would be nice,” and “deal breakers,” or qualities that would remove an individual from consideration as a spouse.
One interesting and funny side note is that the number of items varied significantly between the boys’ and the girls’ lists. The boys came up with 6 “required,” 6 “would be nice,” and 4 “deal breaker” attributes. The girls had 17 “required,” 10 “would be nice,” and 15 “deal breakers.” When I announced that time was up, the boys’ brainstorm had already run dry about two minutes earlier; the girls asked if they could have more time. You better watch out, boys!
I was pleased to see that our students came up with lists that were marked with wisdom and good values overall—boys and girls highlighted that their future spouses should be a Christian who values family and hard work, lives with integrity, and shares common interests with them.
Regarding qualities that relate to physical attractiveness, the boys expressed that it “would be nice” if their future wife is “pretty,” in their words. The girls required straight teeth and nice hair (not receding, they specified), tall was a “would be nice” quality, and yellow or crooked teeth were “deal breakers.”
(And just for the record, I am not critiquing the boys or girls for including physical attributes on their lists. It would be foolish to focus exclusively on qualities of physical attraction in a potential spouse, but physical attraction is built into our design. It is a factor. Thankfully, we do not need to be attractive to all other humans; we only need to be physically attractive to one person, our spouse—and in a world of nearly eight billion people, that person is out there if God has marriage in His plan for us.)
I bounced back-and-forth between the boys and girls, observing them as they worked on their lists. It was fun to hear them deciding as a group what should be on these lists. And when it came to the topic of how the students viewed physical attributes, it was fascinating how varied the views were within the group, which brings us to . . .
For every child, you should model a positive relationship with your own body and healthy living, make sure your words match your actions, and help your child develop discernment regarding cultural messages. But, building from this foundation, each child will have different needs.
Your son is a unique being with his own temperament and talents and challenges and desires and sense of humor and style. A crucial part of helping him develop healthy body image will come from observing him and responding to his status on this issue.
Does your son seem overly concerned with his looks? Does he talk about his own physical attributes negatively? Does he have an obsessive approach to exercise or eating?
As I listened to my middle school students giggle and watch each other for reactions as they questioned the importance of different physical attributes in my marriage assignment, I could see that each child had different views on and varying sensitivities about this subject.
Likewise, our sons will have unique perspectives when it comes to body image.
Some of you reading this have a son who will be at ease within his own skin. Others, even with great fatherly modeling, might get pulled into comparison issues that require further guidance, conversation, and care.
And that’s why you’re there, dad. You are there to help your son sort out his feelings and thoughts, about this issue and others. You are there to offer clarity when he is confused and direction when he is lost. You are there to listen and understand. You are there to pray for and with your son, that he will experience the reality that our God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).
We as parents do not have all of the answers, but we follow the One who is the way and the truth and the life. Let this be our prayer, for to teach our sons, we must remain disciples of the Lord:
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
The following are links to each post in this series:
Sean Coons is the author of Body: or, How Hope Confronts Her Shadow and Calls the Flutter Girl to Flight, a Christian fiction comedy exploring body image and intuitive eating. Sean’s latest novel, Firefly: Let There Be Light, is a middle-grade adventure slated for publication by Black Rose Writing in October 2021. Twitter: @seancoons. Facebook: @seancoonswriter. Instagram: @seanmcoons. SeanCoons.com.