Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sure, Frodo's Cute, but Aragorn Gets All the Action

While I’m on the topic of body image: there is a type of prejudice of which I have become acutely aware since the birth of my son.

Why is still okay to make fun of short people?

Why is it a compliment to remark upon how tall a child is, but a slur to point out that a child is short?

Why is everyone so happy when babies are big?

Why is automatically better for a man to be tall?

How is height any different from any other immutable physical characteristic?

The first time I watched Shrek, long before HB was born, I didn’t find it odd that one of the running jokes is about how short the prince is while the movie is (ostensibly) about how it’s okay to look different from society’s expectations of beauty. Now it grates on my nerves, and I wonder if I should even let HB watch it.

HB is normal—he’s “on the curve”—but he’s waaaayyyy down there, usually in the single digits percentage-wise. He’s the size of the average child a full year younger, and there are kids in his class who are taller than he is who are two years younger. In some ways this is an advantage for him now; people routinely think that he’s outrageously advanced for his age. (My husband used to correct people who said things like “He talks so well!” by saying “No, he’s really small for his age,” until I pointed out that he was implying that HB was short and stupid.)

It won’t be an advantage forever. He’s currently on track to be about 5'5" or 5'6" when he’s an adult – maybe 5'7" if he jumps the curve at the end the way a lot of boys on my side of the family do. This means that he will be routinely eliminated during searches (or whatever it is they have in 2025). He will probably be accused at some point of having a Napoleon Complex or “short man syndrome.” He might have trouble being elected president.

Let me make clear that I realize this is not a terrible problem to have. I am tremendously grateful that my son is healthy and normal. I don’t actually want to be the mother of a president. But it does worry me, and I really don’t know how to help him negotiate his way as he gets older. With one exception, all of his close male relatives—father, uncles, grandfathers—are 5'10" to 6'3", so not a lot of role modeling there.

There is a fair amount of advice out there on how to help your daughter gain a healthy body self-image, but very little for boys.

Those of you with experience with the short guy thing: any advice?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wire Monkey

My friend J and I were talking about body image recently, and she said, “I’m very comfortable with my body—I don’t mind being naked in front of people—but I don’t really like it.”

“What’s wrong with your body??!” I asked. J is beautiful and tall and solid and stacked. She’s a Brick. House.

“Well, there are parts of it that are just ugly,” she said.

“Like what?”

“Like—like my back fat.”

“What’s wrong with back fat?”

“Back fat is objectively unattractive.” Which has to be one of the most ridiculous things she’s ever said.

“Not liking back fat is the epitome of subjective,” I said. “Take my brother. You’re too skinny for his taste.”

Then I confessed one of my body issues to her: when I see well-upholstered mothers cuddling their children, I feel sad that HB will never have that kind of comfort. All he gets are clavicles and acromion processes.

J eyed me for a moment, then said, “You know, you’re right. You’re like the wire monkey.”

And damn it if that image doesn’t keep cropping up in my head every time I hug my child now.

So go enjoy your holiday feasts. Do it for the children.