By Nicole Fuge, MD® Managing Editor
Every single boy deserves to feel free to express their emotions and be completely themselves without apology. Which is why we LOOOVE best-selling author Jessica Sanders’s new book Be Your Own Man. This amazeballs read is a must for boys aged six to 12 (and your baby-daddy would benefit from the message too) because it encourages boys and men to embrace their vulnerability and put their hand up for help. Yasss! We are all about that. Because we’re so obsessed with Jess and her cool new book, we sat her down to chat all things Be Your Own Man and raising the next gen of modern men.
What gave you the idea for this book?
When I was on my book tour for Love Your Body the most common question I was asked was, ‘When will you be writing a book for boys?’. I knew I needed to create something special for boys and I also knew it would need to be different from my first book, because boys and girls experience body image and mental health issues differently. A girl is told that she must be thin, have flawless skin, symmetrical features, plump lips, to take up less space, etc. This is not the same message that our boys receive. Boys are taught that they should be strong and toned, big and broad, tall, and sporty. On top of body image pressures there is also incredible pressure on boys to act tough and never show any sign of weakness. This gendered pressure results in poorer mental health outcomes for boys.
For a while I felt quite stuck with this book. I was working as a social worker and I’d also recently finished writing Me Time which was a huge process. To get into the right headspace I meditated on all the reasons why I was writing this book and what I hoped it would achieve. Once I got clear on those things it just flowed freely. I think I wrote the first draft in one sitting at my regular cafe, and when I wrote the last page it made me quite teary actually. A lot of the characters in the book are based on young boys I’ve met during my work in schools. When you look around a classroom there is an incredible diversity of experiences, interests, abilities and cultural backgrounds to draw upon. I wanted young boys reading the book to see themselves and their reality reflected back in the pages.
What is the book about?
Be Your Own Man is all about embracing who you are and celebrating the difference within yourself and others. It has a strong focus on breaking down the masculine stereotype and opening it up so that boys feel that they can be anything and everything. The themes of self love and self-care are introduced so that children have the tools to support their mental health and be their own best friend.
Why is this so important?
The masculine stereotype is hurting boys and men. When boys grow to become men they are three times more likely to die by suicide and are far less likely to seek help for mental health conditions than their female counterparts. Boys are emotionally disadvantaged from an incredibly early age and I hope this book plays an important role in countering this disadvantage by providing boys with permission to express themselves and ask for help.
The response to the book has been really incredible. I’ve had so many parents reach out to be to share what the book has meant to them and their kids. I’ve also loved hearing about the vulnerable conversations that sons have been able to have with their parents as a result of reading the book.
What are some things boy mamas need to think about in raising their sons in today’s modern world?
I think there needs to be a real focus on talking about feelings. When you as a parent talk about your feelings in an age-appropriate way you are removing any shame associated with expressing emotions. You are also providing boys with the language to talk about their feelings. This is incredibly important. We can’t express our feelings and ask for help without the emotional literacy required to do so. You should be talking about feelings every day, multiple times a day. It’s also really great to have a specific space or time of day to ask boys about their feelings. It could be at the dinner table or just before you read a bedtime story. Another really important thing to do is start open and curious conversation around gendered expectations. A great question to start with is, ‘What do you think being a man means?’ you will probably be pretty shocked by what they come back with. Keep the conversation open and inquisitive. For example, ‘Is it true that all men drive trucks, because Aunty Jan has a big truck and she loves driving it?’. Boys will soon realise that you can be anything and everything regardless of your gender.
Positive mental health is essential to our emotional and physical wellbeing. The world we are currently living in is presenting huge challenges for young people and so it’s more important than ever that we give them the skills to nurture their mental health. Achieving gender equality will lessen some of the drivers of poor mental health and will open up opportunities for young people.