When I was a child, I was tall. I still am. But I remember it being a fairly frequent topic of conversation while growing up. The doctor used to monitor my centimeters to advice wether or not I should have hormone injections to delay my growing (Yes, they did that back then). My feet were big for my age, proportionate to my tall body but nevertheless commented as unusual because they were bigger than average children's feet.
As a teenager, I became very self-conscious and shy. I was ashamed of my hight, although I was told I "had the body of a model." I continuously bought shoes a size too small because I was more comfortable with having black toenails than having to buy Mens size athletes shoes (God forbid). I felt that I took up too much space in the world, and kept stepping aside, out of the way, trying desperately not to be noticed, while feeling like an elephant behind the trunk of a palm tree.
Today I'm proud of my size, or rather - I don't really think about it. I'm comfortable with who I am and there are so many aspects about people that are so incredibly much more interesting and important than centimeters. Learning this is one of the best things of growing up and becoming an adult. I've also been blessed with two awesome little sons, who, not surprisingly, are both tall.
Lately I have noticed that my oldest son greets people like this: "Hi I'm Mikkel, and I'm a big boy. I'm growing real tall!" And I've been noticing how many times during a week he hears people saying how incredibly tall he is. How much he's been growing. What impressive shoe size he wears for a 3 year old.
There's nothing wrong with being tall, and I know people don't intend to imply that there is. But it is striking to a lot of people, and the repeated comments are wired into the little boy's brain, already becoming an important part of his identity - he's tall, very tall, big kid. The size of his body, the size of his feet. I just wish that there were other, much more important aspects of him that were emphasized - something that can make him grow internally, something that really target his self esteem, and not his self awareness. Things like his natural way of making his little brother laugh, his subtle and heartwarming expressions of empathy when he observes someone being upset, his intense passion about anything that spins and his complex and well developed motor skills ...
But I know that these things are harder to see and comes across only when you spend time with a person. The obvoius thing about him that everyone can instantly see is, of course, his physical appearance.
I wish I could say I never comment on children's appearances while they are listening. I admit that it is the first thing that comes to mind and it is an easy and pretty common way of starting a conversation on the playground. For the adults, that is. But I will guard my words more carefully in the future. Next time I recognize the obvious about a child's appearance - I will not comment. Chances are everyone else has already done it. Chances are the parents of the child will reply on auto-pilot because they are so used to hearing those exact words. I will skip the obvious and find something else to talk about, something to snap the parents out of the auto-mode and maybe we could end up talking about something meaningful.
Even complements, with enough repetition, can cause more harm than good when they only target the way our kids look. Would't it be much more aspiring to hear my son being described as "You know Mikkel, the brave engineer kid with the glasses," rather than, "You know Mikkel, the tall blonde boy." Or for a girl: "You know Eva, the clever little girl who loves to paint," rather than "You know Eva, the tiny blonde girl." We live in a world where appearance is becoming more and more significant for recognition. Tall or tiny, fit or fat, dark or fare, sturdy or tender - it is only the outline of appearance, it is not who people are. As parents of young children today, we can try to target our comments more consciously, and deliberately influence the coming generation to be less appearance oriented - and more comfortable with who they really are. It could turn out to be one of he most important factors for their happiness and success in life. Even - or should I say at least, in a selfie-driven surf-the-surface world.