Encouraging a Positive Body Image
By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 22, 2017 –
The word “FAT” …we’ve all said it about ourselves. We eat a big meal or try on an outfit and declare, “I feel so FAT!”
Like all things we say and do, our children pick up on this “feeling” of being fat. They watch us pinch and poke and criticize our bodies in the mirror; then they model that same behavior.
The end result is a new generation of kids with negative body images and all the consequences that come with it.
Young people with a positive body image feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed in life. They don’t obsess about calorie intake or their weight. They understand that eating is about fueling their body to enjoy physical activity and remain healthy. They see their body as beautiful for the things it accomplishes, not its outward appearance.
On the other hand, when children have a negative body image, they feel more self-conscious, anxious and depressed. They are at greater risk for developing eating disorders and unhealthy habits in general.
- First and foremost, we need to check our own body image issues. Our children think we are beautiful. If they hear us constantly putting ourselves down or expressing a desire to change the way we look, they will begin to question their view of their own bodies. Pay attention to how you talk about food and weight. Model positive body imaging in all you do.
- Talk in terms of what is healthy, not in terms of weight. Never use words like fat or skinny. Use the words healthy and unhealthy. (i.e.- It is healthy for us to eat nutritious meals every day to fuel our body for the energy we need to do our day-to-day tasks. It is healthy for us to be physically active and keep our body functioning at its best. It is unhealthy to restrict calories or starve ourselves. Make eating healthy, balanced meals and getting exercise part of everyday life so it becomes routine habit, not just a way to lose weight.)
- Eliminate the myth of the picture-perfect body. Children are inundated with media images constantly. In television, movies and magazines, they see unrealistic bodies and believe those images are what they need to attain. Beyond the Photoshop world of standard media, children have a steady stream of social media on their electronic devices. This makes it so easy to compare their body type to that of their peers and to obsess over the perfect selfie angles and filters to achieve the look that will garner the most “likes.” Remind your child that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
- Be holistic in your compliments to your child. Particularly with girls, it is habit to compliment their appearance. Instead, use compliments that address your child’s skills, strengths and personal qualities. Remind your child there is so much more to her than the way she looks.
- Be aware of body changes at puberty and avoid commenting on size or shape of body parts. Children’s bodies can change dramatically at puberty, leading some children to feel insecure about their bodies. Puberty also happens at different times for children, so lack of change can lead to your child feeling insecure as well. It is important to talk to children about the normal changes to expect at puberty to help prepare them. Being sensitive to these changes helps your child feel more comfortable with their body and you.