Published in Indy’s Child Newsletter
Okay parents, time to get serious about reinforcing our children’s positive body image. Recent studies indicate that over 90% of women and girls are currently dissatisfied with their body shape and size. Forty to 60% of men and boys reported dissatisfaction as well. These studies included children as young as 5 years old! For kids, body dissatisfaction can be a predictor of low confidence, self-esteem issues, and disordered eating as they become teenagers. But parents, we are not helpless here, there are steps you can take to create and reinforce a positive body image in your child.
Most importantly, you need to be a body positive role model. First things first, check in with yourself and your relationship with your own body. Are you guys friends? Or, do you find yourself saying unkind or negative things about your body? Are you often dieting or trying to lose weight? Do you express guilt about certain food choices? By now, you know our kids inherently look to us first as they shape their view of themselves and the world. If we treat ourselves and our bodies poorly, they will follow suit.
Here’s what you can do. Start with language, how are you talking about your body? How are you talking about other people’s bodies? In spite of what we see on television, magazines, and social media, healthy people come in all different shapes and sizes. Do your kids know that? Do you know that?
Secondly, how are you talking about food? We hear messages all the time about “good vs. bad and forbidden” food or “what to eat vs. what not to eat”. The truth is there is no such thing as good or bad food. Instead, there are “all the time foods” and “sometimes foods”. Viewing food this way will also help your child start to check in with their own natural hunger and fullness cues. What sounds good to eat right now? Am I actually hungry? Our bodies are designed to tell us what they need. We can’t give it to them if we are limiting our food options or not checked in with our natural cues.
Exercise, and the language we use to talk about exercise, is another area where we can make a positive impact. We can shift our thinking from “working out” to “moving our bodies”. We can take the focus off of exercising to lose weight and refocus on exercise as a means to improve cardiovascular, pulmonary, and mental health. It’s also fun to find an activity that the whole family can both enjoy together and move your bodies.
We can also help our kids build a positive body image by being aware of what visuals they are exposed to. Did you know that our children are exposed to over 5,000 visual images a day? That’s a big number and too large for us to completely manage. But we certainly can have some influence. For example, toss or put away those magazines with covers of “perfect” people, edit the types of shows you are watching, at least around the kids, and feel free to point out when images are photoshopped or altered to create the illusion of perfection.
Improving our own body image, changing the way we talk about food and our bodies, and increasing our vigilance about what our kids see every day is no easy task! Remember, though, all of these changes don’t have to happen in a day. These changes will take practice and rehearsal to get them to stick, but it is worth the work. Knowing that lots of self-esteem and a healthy dose of confidence is critical to our children’s success, it is worth the work!
Come on, let’s go move our bodies!!
Kate Fisch is a licensed psychotherapist and founder of Northside Mental Health. Kate’s clinical experience and area of expertise is in the field of eating disorder treatment and substance abuse treatment.