Our Sons Struggle to Love Their Bodies Too.


Our Sons Struggle to love their bodies too. 

Read this eye opening story from a Glenna Whitaker, a mother who loves her son and wants him to love himself.

In our culture, bodies are always a topic of conversation. We are obsessed with our physical form, and the media plays a huge role in feeding this obsession. Through social media, TV, movies, magazines, and online advertisements, our image of beauty is consistently being altered. When we think of, "body image," we subconsciously associate it with a female condition or problem. Over the past 6 years we have seen the topic of body image surface in the media and advertising campaigns. The conversation is always geared towards women, creating the belief that poor body image is not something that affects men or young boys. Furthermore, it makes the topic of male body image taboo and emasculating for the men who do speak out. 

We recently had a conversation with our HNS team member Glenna, who shared with us her concerns for her seven-year-old son, after a recent family trip to the waterpark. 

What was the moment you realized your son was struggling with body image?

Sometime last year, my husband and I decided to take our kids to a new indoor waterpark. All day we ran around as a family, going down waterslides, hanging in the wave pool, and floating in the lazy river. When we decided to take a little break, my husband casually threw his shirt on. My son suddenly became very upset. He kept pleading with my husband to please take his shirt back off. We, of course, found it rather odd and didn’t understand his unusual request. When we asked him why he told us it was because he was uncomfortable without his shirt. He wanted my husband to keep his shirt off too, so he wouldn’t feel as weird. We explained to him that my husband was just putting on his shirt because he was cold and my son shouldn’t worry about having his shirt off. My son then went on to explain he didn’t like his shirt off because his belly was big.

As his Mother, how did this make you feel?

He was only six at that time, and my heart broke for him. At six years old, the LAST thing on my son’s mind should be showing his adorable little belly at a waterpark. It made me start to wonder, why would he be so concerned about his stomach in the first place? It didn’t take very much self-reflection to realize there was a high likelihood that some of my habits probably contributed to his self-conscious behavior.


"You aren't fat Mama, you are sooo beautiful."

-My Sweet Boy

Looking back, What habits come to mind that your son might have picked up on?

Looking back, the self-deprecating comments and behavior I thought went unnoticed by my children weren’t going unobserved. I can see now that there are some things I have done or said in the past that I recognize as very blatant harmful habits. I used to weigh myself incessantly, morning and night, and admittedly sometimes still do. I never gave two thoughts about my children being around when I did it either. If the scale showed a smaller number than the previous week, the last day, or even past few hours I would rejoice. Success! A step in the right direction. This is what I would think or imply when I mumbled to myself getting off the scale. If the numbers went the other direction, my attitude went that way as well by outwardly showing disappointment or disgust in myself. At some point, my kids started weighing themselves too. They’d compare their weight (even though the numbers are arbitrary to them). I didn’t think much of it, other than it was a source of random entertainment for them. It wasn’t until one day my son weighed himself and excitedly told me the number is two pounds less than the last time he weighed himself. “That’s good, right Mom?” At his age, he was programmed to believe that the lower the number on the scale the better. I had no one to blame but myself. The way he reacted was a direct reflection of what he had seen me do time and time again.

I reflected on the countless times I’ve looked in the mirror and picked on myself. The times I’ve tried outfits on and had conversations with my husband, my children near, saying I looked too fat in what I was wearing. The times I’d pinch the extra skin around my hips or thighs and say things like “I just need to get rid of this.” I also then reflected on my sweet boy who would always come up to me to give me a hug and kiss and tell me, “you aren’t fat Mama, you are soooo BEAUTIFUL.” This sweet boy, who sees his Mama beautiful in every light, was now conditioned to worry about his own beautiful little body. Just because that’s what he had learned by watching the way I treated myself.

I know that you and your son have an unexplainable bond and connection. You are his favorite person in the world. Out of curiosity, what was your waterpark swimsuit experience? 

That day at the waterpark I am sure I made plenty of comments about my body and how it looked. My go-to water attire was always a tankini with shorts. My goal was always to cover as much of my fat, cellulite, and stretch marks as humanly possible. I would often joke that I wished wetsuits were cool to casually swim in so I could cover even more of my body if possible. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the shame I had for my body, the constant berating and belittling of it, harping on all the negative aspects I wanted to change, would somehow rub off onto my children in one way or another.

Was this the defining moment that opened your eyes to affect your own self image has on your children?

YES! What’s funny, is it did come as a surprise. It came as a complete and total surprise that caught me off guard. For some reason, I thought that as long as I never spoke negatively to them about their bodies and cheered them on when they made healthy choices that would be enough, but that was foolish. Actions honestly do speak louder than words. Whether or not my children consciously or subconsciously picked up on the way, I felt about my body. As you said, my son and I have a deep soul connection, and he can pick up on and feel the way I think about myself even if I try to hide it. My son’s actions have shown me that it was affecting him.

What were you able to learn from this experience?

We can’t breathe life, and joy, and positivity into our children while simultaneously berating and tearing down ourselves. You can speak to your kids until you are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, it’s what they learn by example that resonates with them. Your actions and your way of being are what will truly help them grow and develop the core of who they are. We can’t tell our kids that every body is beautiful, that they should never be ashamed of themselves, but then at the same time, obsess over our outer shells. 

What changes are you making moving forward?

I know the way I was raised to think about my own body is not something that I can change overnight. It is a process, but I am making strides to change the way I feel about my body as well as what I say about it. Our bodies are just the vessel we were given to get through this life. As host for our souls so we can do incredible things on this planet. It was not meant to be picked apart, judged, and obsessed over. I will consistently try to remind myself of this and be kinder as well. I will try to appreciate the many things my body has allowed me to do in my life, like birthing my two beautiful babies. I will focus more on rejoicing in its strengths rather than focusing on its shortcomings. I will take care of my body because I love it and not a life of deprivation because that is what I feel I deserve. Most of all, I will remember that my actions speak the loudest truths, more than my words ever will, and my children are always listening and watching. 

3 facts about boys & body image

  • The proportion of undressed males in advertising has been rising steadily since the 1980s.
  • 33–35% of boys age 6–8 indicate their ideal body is thinner than their current body.
  • The measurements of the male action figures young boys play with exceed even those of the biggest bodybuilders.
HealthKatie Willcox