Body image for kids
Do you remember the first time you ever had a negative thought about your body image? Believe it or not, body positivity or a lack of it often starts in childhood.
Kids as young as toddlers are learning to make negative comments about their bodies.
Where does this come from? We are not born to look at ourselves negatively, it is something we learn. Have you ever stopped to think about what body positivity means to you? Each person's definition is slightly different.
The truth is, being body positive in a mostly body-negative world is tough. We are constantly bombarded with messages of ways in which we could be better in some way. If we work harder, we can be more attractive, healthier, better parents or more active, thinner, stronger, sexier.
Getting wrapped up in these thoughts is easy, but, the thoughts we have, often translate into the words we use. The words we use often fall on little ears, our children.
Body positivity movement
While body positivity may be buzzing on social media platforms, the term actually originated from an organization developed by two individuals seeking to dismantle the negative associations many of us have with our bodies.
The Body Positive is an organization that helps young people and adults reconnect with their innate body wisdom to have a more joyful, loving, and peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.
You can join the body positive movement by learning to love your body, so your kids will also love theirs.
Now take a moment to think about the body-positive message and how that might relate to your child. If you are frequently making negative comments about your own body, what do you think your child is thinking about theirs?
Believe it or not, how you feel about and treat your own body may have a big impact on how your little one feels about his/her own body as well.
Positive role models
We are our kid's biggest role models throughout their childhood and the things we say and do weigh more heavily on our children than we may think.
Kids are highly influenceable and they’re looking to us to guide them for both thoughts and actions. Our behavior towards our own body can speak volumes about body image to our child. How we act towards ourselves impacts their body positivity.
Your child picks up on the messages you send about your own body before they can even walk. Within the first 3 months of life, a baby's brain is developing more rapidly than any other time in life. This development continues throughout the first two years. This means that they may be most influenced by your behaviors toward your own body before they can even speak.
Your words, comments, behaviors, and interactions are shaping their relationship with themselves and with food, for the rest of their lives. Body positivity starts in infancy.
Negative self talk
Think about the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror. Did you smile or did you grimace? If you are like most, you spent time thinking about things you wish you could change. Maybe you made a comment about how terrible you looked without make-up, or how your "muffin top" was showing through your shirt.
Negative body talk can have a bigger impact on your kids than you think.
These are all things our brains have learned to comment on without us even thinking about it. We have become programmed to see the negative in ourselves.
Each time we display these reactions, we are teaching our children negative self-talk, and most of the time we don't even realize we are doing it.
The food environment
Body positivity translates to the food environment as well. Are you overly restrictive with "fun foods?" Do you put foods into “good” and “bad” categories or attach morality around food and eating? Is calorie counting a common occurrence in your home? Kids pick up on this quickly.
Your own relationship with food can impact the relationship your child develops with food.
These statements and actions send a subtle message to your child that some foods are good and others are bad. Eating "bad" foods brings feelings of guilt and shame. If they eat "bad" foods, they too may be bad.
Making negative comments about your body is one form of body shaming. If you force yourself to exercise for external reasons (the way you look), your child gets the message that movement is a chore, rather than a source of pleasure and fun.
Talking about going for a run after eating cake teaches your child that they too need to punish themselves for eating foods they enjoy.
When you shame your own body, your child learns that bodies are meant to be scrutinized.
The good news is, you don’t have to “master” the body positive message in order to have a positive impact on your little one. Simple changes to improve your own body image can have a leaps-and-bounds effect on your kids.
How to be more body positive
The first step to body positivity is learning the ways in which negative self-talk can creep into your lives. How we allow negative self talk to enter also affects how our children think and feel about themselves. If you are ready to commit to body positivity for you are your kids, start by focusing on the following areas.
1. Focus on body appreciation
Point out all the wonderful things your body can do, not the ways in which you wish it were different. For example, appreciate your strong arms! Remind your little one they help pick them up, hold, and hug them.
2. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad”
Instead of demonizing some foods and putting a halo over others, have a more All-Foods-Fit approach when it comes to eating and feeding practices. All foods, including Fun Foods like candy, ice cream, and chips, can have a place on the menu.
3. Celebrate diversity
Talk about and celebrate the natural diversity of all people - this includes appreciating people of all colors, shapes, sizes, cultural backgrounds, abilities, etc. Adopting this kind of attitude reminds little ones that differences make us special and unique in this world.
4. Be more inclusive
Regularly show your little one media that includes people of all shapes and sizes doing both normal and extraordinary activities. Avoid media that shames people in larger bodies. Sometimes this is hard to avoid. If your child is old enough, she may be able to have a conversation about the material and messaging around weight stigma. Encourage your young one to think critically around media that may be sending a harmful message about people in certain body types.
5. Talk yourself up!
Give yourself a compliment at least once a day. This doesn’t mean praising yourself for making the “right” decision around food or eating. Instead, practice appreciating the nice things you may have done for yourself or others.
6. Practice self-care
Intuitive self-care looks different for different people. Sometimes this means resting instead of exercising (believe it or not). YOU are the expert of your own body.
7. Focus on feelings rather than weight or size
Instead of focusing on eating or movement practices that come from a desire to lose weight, think about how they make you feel. Chances are, you’re more likely to stick with the habits that fuel your soul rather than what you think they will do for your weight.
8. Avoid commenting on your friends’ bodies
We all want to celebrate and appreciate our friends! But our friends are so much more than what they look like. Try to avoid commenting or complimenting your friends’ bodies or appearances, especially in front of your kids. Instead, trying appreciating them for the qualities they bring to your friendship, like their generosity, their tenderness, or their compassion.
9. Take a break from social media
Social media can certainly have its benefits - it connects you to other people and exposes you to resources you may not otherwise have access to. But it’s no secret that social media can also negatively impact how we feel about ourselves and our bodies. Try reducing social media even by just 10 minutes per day. Try putting your phone in a drawer or under the bed. Instead, commit to 10 more minutes of cuddle time or a dance party with your loved one! Also, I recommend unfollowing accounts on social media that make you feel negative or bad about yourself in any way. Follow body positive accounts for an extra boost.
10. Avoid associating thin with “good”
This goes back to celebrating diversity. Associating thin with being “good”, is setting up our child to believe that some bodies are better than others. Instead, remind your kids that health looks different on different bodies, regardless of weight or size. There is no One-Size-Fits-All standard for beauty.
11. Avoid Using Food as a Reward or Punishment
Yes, even the way we use food can send a message to our little ones about our bodies! When we use food as a reward, we send the message that certain foods are only allowed if we’ve been “good.” On the contrary, when we restrict foods as punishment, this may set up our kids for more dysfunctional eating patterns as an adult.
Key takeaway message
The way we talk about food, eating, and our bodies can have a BIG impact on how our children feel about themselves. Practice body-positive messaging whenever possible. Not only will this set your child up for a healthy body image as they grow older, but it will also help you start improving your own relationship with food and your body.
*This post was co-written by Sarah Kessner, RDN.