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What Body Positivity has to do with Educational Freedom

Updated: Dec 8, 2018

body positivity educational freedom

As strange as it may sound at first, my decision to send my child to Sudbury School of Atlanta started with my journey to body acceptance. Learning to love my body meant opening my mind, trusting myself, and setting myself free. When this type of personal awakening happens? It impacts everything.

I was eight years old the first time I tried to lose weight. I thought my body was too soft, too round. I was ashamed at how much I ate. I was embarrassed by the size of my clothing. I thought becoming smaller would somehow make me more lovable, more worthwhile. I spent the next twenty years fighting against my body – I was at war with food and at war with myself. I dieted. I restricted. I forced myself to exercise. I shut off my instincts and intuition. I disconnected from my desires. I thought I was broken and bad and beyond repair. I lost and regained and lost and regained weight. I obsessed about eating. I forced myself. I tricked myself. I berated myself. I made and broke promises. I lost the ability to listen to myself, to trust myself, to exist peacefully inside my own skin.

As I neared age 30, I reached my limit. I knew I had to find a way out of this hell. The journey out was hard work. It involved therapy and good books and good friends and a deep commitment to unlearn basically everything my culture had taught me. It was an unwinding. It was a breaking open. It was a revolution. I am grateful every single day to live in my soft, round body without shame, to enjoy food, to feel relaxed about food, and to exercise not because I “should” but because my body loves to dance and stretch and sweat. It’s a glorious thing to be free.

So, what does this have to do with the Sudbury model of education? Pretty much everything. My journey to body acceptance involved learning that I am trustworthy. That my desires and passions matter. That a healthy, functional relationship with myself is the foundation of a healthy, functional relationship with everything and everyone around me. That my emotions are valid. That most traditional measures of achievement are meaningless traps. That it’s important to ask good questions and find real answers, and many times those answers are in conflict with mainstream messages. That my joy matters. That money and success mean very little if my heart, soul, and spirit are sick.

And now, my husband and I are teaching our son these same things: he is trustworthy, his emotions are valid, his worthiness exists outside of our cultural expectations, his desires and passions matter, his relationship with himself matters, his questions matter, his discoveries matter, his joy matters, his whole-person wellness matters, his authentic self matters.

We chose a school for him that we knew would validate, support, and nurture these beliefs. These beliefs are deeply embedded in the Sudbury model. At Sudbury, all students have voice and choice. Students have unlimited opportunity to direct their own learning paths. Traditional models of education, both public and private, are built around concepts of obedience, compliance, sameness, repetition, and yielding to authority. Sudbury is built on the concepts of trust, freedom, personal responsibility, and empowerment.

Learning to love my body was a paradigm shift. Sometimes my choices are controversial. Not everyone understands my choice to accept my body just as it is. But because I’m the one living in this body, I’m the one who truly, deeply knows the difference it makes to live this way, and there’s really no comparison. I was living inside a shadow before. Now? Life is full and whole and vibrant. And I believe it’s the same difference between traditional educational models and self-directed educational models. I will not squeeze my child and my family into the narrow shadows of busy-ness, rigid standards, forced timelines, and academic pressure. We will enjoy the gifts and pleasures of a Sudbury education, where my child is free.

Author: Joy Tanksley

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