Friday, May 11, 2012

Celebrating Body Diversity with Children

Illustration by Silvana Moran; copyright information here

Yesterday, a friend sent me this beautiful illustration by Winnipeg artist Silvana Moran.  I encourage you to use it when talking to young children about diversity.  Children vary in height, weight, skin color, skin tone, hair color, eye color, and feet size from their peers.  Yet each is beautiful and unique in his or her own ways. Talking about fruit is a fun way to illustrate how important it is that no two people (and no two fruits) are exactly the same.
If you want to move from the metaphor of fruit to something a little closer to human -  try using dogs.  They are mammals just like us!  Yet dogs have many different breeds.  Dogs have different weights, heights, fur type and color, as well as particular talents and instincts that are normal for that breed.  Even among breeds there are variations and it is very rare for two dogs to be exactly the same.

Chlidren will have fun describing different breeds of dogs that they recognize. Do they know the difference between a St. Bernard and a chihuahua?  Do they recognize that a dalmatian looks nothing like a miniature schnauzer? 

Ask them to imagine a St. Bernard dog who spends much of her time  in front of the mirror wishing she could look like someone else.  What might she be thinking?    "I'm too big... I'm too heavy... I knock things over with my tail.  I'm so clumsy and kids are sometimes afraid of me.   I wish I could be like the cute little toy poodle next door.. he is so delicate and sweet with that soft curly hair... no one would ever be afraid of him.  Maybe I should go on a diet or dye my fur a different color so people would like me more."

Now imagine what is going on  next door. The poodle  is looking in his mirror too.  Staring wistfully,  maybe he is thinking "I hope I don't get taken out for a walk today.  I'd be so embarrassed.  My hair hasn't been coiffed lately and I am just not pretty enough.  I'm also really jealous of that big black and brown dog next door. She is so strong and she never seems afraid of the neighborhood kids. She doesn't seem to care what she looks like either."

This exercise is guaranteed to get kids giggling and their imaginations running wild as they think of all the dogs that they know and what their inner thoughts might be.  This is a great way to kick off a thoughtful conversation about the normal and diverse range of human appearance.   It isn't just teens and adults who spend too much time comparing themselves to other people and worrying about how their appearance measures up.  Children are not immune.  We all need to learn that  skin color, hair color or body shape and size do not determine our worth. 

Help your kids imagine a happier, more confident St. Bernard.  How would she be the best St. Bernard she can be?  How can the poodle learn to relax and know that he is loved no matter how recently his last grooming appointment was?  Why do their people love them?  Are big dogs loved just as much as small ones? What are the qualities that make different dogs special? 

Children then can be encouraged to notice and and talk about their own best qualities. Here are some of my favourite story books on the subject. Click on the title to read a description.