Teaching Body Positivity

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By Ellen Dippel, MSW, LSW – March 27, 2024

Body positivity is having its moment, and I think we should all be excited about that. Through the decades we’ve seen fashion change, and along with that so do beauty standards. It seems as though the bar is always moving and always out of reach.

In the world kids live in today, they are surrounded by images of what “beauty” is and constantly being told what they can do to achieve that standard. But as more people come forward and embrace their bodies with all of their beautiful imperfections, how can we capitalize on this to help grow body-positive children?

To start, we need to understand the harm caused by commenting on a person’s body, even our own body in front of our kids. Even when we think they are not listening, they are, and those little sponge-like brains internalize whatever message we’re putting out into the world. When we are constantly putting ourselves down in front of our kids, they hear that. In addition, making comments on a child’s weight has lasting effects such as decreased self-esteem, depression, body dysmorphia and disordered eating.

We should always encourage our children to live a healthy lifestyle. It is important to teach kids from a young age that weight does not equate to health. When kids see or hear their parents or other trusted adults talk about people with bigger bodies in a negative way and deem them “unhealthy,” they internalize it.

When teaching kids the power of body positivity, the most important thing to do is start by being a good role model. Be careful about the words you use to describe yourself and how you talk about your body. Be sure to speak of your own body using positive terms. Also, talk to your kids about how all bodies are different and their body isn’t expected to look just like anyone else’s. Make sure you set yourself up as someone they trust and can talk to when they are feeling self-conscious.

Trying to work on your own relationship with food and exercise can also be a great way to role model for children. So often we look at foods as “good” or “bad,” but really all of it is just fuel for our bodies. Some foods give us more fuel, while others might make us feel like they have drained the fuel. This is a great way to talk about food with kids. There is a time and place for all types of snacks and treats. Talk about fueling our bodies, what foods give us more energy, and what foods are going to make us feel stronger. It’s also important to stress that you never have to “earn” food through exercise. Be sure you’re showing your kids that exercise is there to make you feel good, get stronger, and have more energy, and not just to be thin or fit a specific body type.

Eating disorders for young people are on the rise every year, but with more people coming forward and actively loving their bodies at all different shapes and sizes, we are moving in a direction to allow kids to feel comfortable and confident.