Kind, Necessary and True - An Application to Body Image

I have an 11 year old son. It's becoming increasingly clear that we have entered a whole new phase of hormones and emotions and girls and attitude. Ready or not, here we go.

Lately he's been saying something that has me thinking. I do that a lot - thinking that is (because he says a lot of things that I need to think about) - especially about how to best respond. 

He will call his little brother a name, or say something insensitive and disrespectful to my husband or I, or will fight and fight and fight against a rule or a decision if he disagrees or thinks it's unfair. (If i hear "it's not fair!" one more time...) 

Then when discipline happens or we get after him for saying something we feel is offensive, he responds with something like "but it's how I feel. You can't get mad at me for telling you how I feel. I can say anything because it's how I feel."

Wrong.

Well, kind of right. We support him expressing himself. I would never want him to be dishonest or unauthentic or to avoid emotional awareness. 

But he doesn't get to say anything he thinks without any concern for how it may effect another person. He does get to practice, in a safe and forgiving environment, how to effectively express himself without offending or belittling.  He can learn how to be bold and brave and passionate while also being sensitive and compassionate and understanding.

We've asked him to filter his comments through three questions - Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? If it can't walk through all 3 doors, it doesn't need to be said. But the best part is that it's always possible to reframe his comment to meet those requirements, still allowing him to talk with us and express himself. 

(Of note: he is such a great kid. He has so many great qualities and talents and I am super proud of him. He's also 11, and his brain is still developing :) Also, I didn't make up those three questions. My parents taught me that and they may or may not have heard it elsewhere too.) 

What's my point? Well, if you want to apply this to politics, feel free :) (it's as political as you'll see me get, but Oh. My. Goodness.) 

But really, I just love the idea of only speaking things that are kind, necessary and true.  It's been on the forefront of my mind and ended up being a great solution for a client's body image issue in a recent session.  

We ran all her usual thoughts through those 3 requirements and none made the cut.  

Kind:  A good rule of thumb is to not say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to a friend, your son or daughter, your mother, etc.  A lot of things will change for you if you set a strict boundary against saying mean things to yourself about yourself.  This includes how you look.  That doesn’t mean you need to push away or ignore negative body image thoughts.  In fact, I encourage you to make room for them.  But I would also recommend that you to match them with a positive thought and put them in perspective.  Here are two past articles that explain what I mean:

Cultivating Gratitude For Your Body
How To Put Body Image In Perspective 

Necessary:  You might think that a critical mindset about your body is effective and motivating.  However, you don’t want to take care of something you hate.  I would absolutely encourage you to try embracing, accepting and respecting YOUR body and just watch the entire way you behave around food and exercise change in a positive way.  It’s incredible!  I get that cultivating respect and acceptance is easier said than done.  However, avoiding unnecessary negative commentary will surely make it easier.  This will include speaking about yourself and your body in a more positive way to yourself and others.  It also most definitely includes how you speak about other people’s bodies.  And then, as always, the type of media you watch, read or listen to.  Are you surrounding yourself with body positive messages or is a social media detox necessary?  

True:  Did you know that Oxford Dictionaries has voted the word “post-truth” as their word of the year for 2017?  They do this yearly and past years have been words like “selfie” and “emoji”.  Post-truth is defined as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  Casper Grathwohl, the president of Oxford Dictionaries has said, “It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse.  Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”

If you’re not careful, you can be influenced to embrace post-truth as absolute truth.  We are constantly bombarded with messages, including messages about beauty.  I encourage you to really evaluate what beautiful is to you.  Society has tried to set certain standards of beauty and it’s easy to believe they are true.  Is weight really a predictor of health?  No.  Is it necessary to be thin and/or muscular to be beautiful?  No.  Do you need to be on a diet or overthink food in order to be taking care of yourself?  No.  Be careful what you embrace as truth.  

We have really benefited by practicing only saying things that are kind, necessary and true.  It’s been really powerful to realize that we can absolutely still express ourselves but in a way that honors our values and respects others.  I hope you find this application to body image helpful and effective.  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD