How do you help your kids develop a positive body image? How do you help them grow confident, appreciating their bodies and seeing past other people’s body images, when society is doing everything to ensure otherwise?
Kids’ views about body images are influenced from a very young age. Their Barbie dolls, the films they are watching, their idols, advertising posters, magazines – every day they see thin, skinny bodies, shaping their idea about the “perfect” body size. And that’s even before they start spending time on social media.
It is scary to think how many vulnerable teenagers are comparing their figures to skinny, toned, ripped girls and guys on Instagram. To prep your kids for those teenage years with a strong self-esteem, nurturing body positivity starts from a young age and in your own home.
1. Love your own body
Don’t label yourself. Kids learn by copying and mimicking their parents. So, while it might not be easy for yourself, try to adopt a healthy and positive feeling about your own body. Don’t talk about your weight, or anything you don’t like about your body in front of your kids. In fact, don’t talk about it at all, learn to love your body and show that to your kids. Those stretchmarks on your belly might look funny, but they tell the story of you kids being born. Your legs might be bigger than they used to be, but that’s only because you are stronger, carrying a baby on one arm and a toddler in the other.
See for yourself the amazing things your body can do and share them with your kids. Steer clear of words like “skinny”, “diet”, and “fat”, and use positive language, such as: healthy, strong, muscular, lean, and fit, and remind them of how hurtful the wrong words can be for them and for the kids/adults around them.
2. Teach your kids to see people, not bodies
Every time we talk negatively about body shape, we’re creating a hierarchy for our body types. We’re declaring that one type of body is better than another and encourage feelings of superiority. Instead, stop judging based on the bodies. If we want to raise confident, body-loving individuals, we have to show them that bodies are just bodies and it’s what you do with it that really matters.
Teach your kids to see who people really are, beyond the surface. You can encourage this, by asking them why they like someone and what they like about them. Expand their vocabulary on positive adjectives that describe someone’s character. Start complimenting people based on how they make you feel or the kind of energy they put out. Tell people they look happy, they inspire you or they have such a positive energy. Your kids will listen and learn.
3. Don’t food or body shame
Avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ No food is inherently better or worse than any other. The psychological implications of eating a ‘bad’ food can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and secrecy. The best way to do this, is teaching your kids about intuitive eating.
The idea of intuitive eating is simple: tuning into the body, putting effort and energy into the preparation of our food, and eating in such a way that we are connected to our food and to our body. Sitting down at the dinner table, without distraction, giving thanks or appreciation for the food, talking about taste, and practicing taking small bites and chewing, are all good ways to integrate intuitive eating. This eating style encourages mindfulness, slow eating, appreciation, and connectedness with hunger and satiety signals. You can read more about this on last week’s blog.
Here’s some body positivity inspiration from 10 year old Tish Melton: