It’s sad, but there seems to be some sort of idea that it’s okay to bash or criticize a child’s body in front of them. Many adults say terrible things about kids that no adult would ever dare utter to another grownup’s face, as if this is somehow acceptable. Take a moment and think about just how messed up that is. I remember going clothes shopping when I was in grade six with a friend’s mom as a treat to a new and fashionable “tween” store. I was armed with $25 my mother had given me to spend on whatever I liked. When I was trying on clothes I heard the store owner comment about how I still had all of my baby fat. My heart sank and I stopped trying on clothes immediately. I purchased a loose pair of pajama pants that no one outside of my family would ever see while my friends grabbed cute tops, dresses and pants they’d show off at school the following week. An outing that was supposed to be a treat, that was supposed to make me feel good, is one of the first moments I remember ever hating my body.
When I found out I was going to become a parent I thought a lot about body image and how I needed to shape up in terms of how I talk about my own body. As someone who has personally struggled with some severe body self-loathing for nearly 30 years, beginning her first crash diet at the wise old age of thirteen, I knew I didn’t want this for my children.
Five and a half years into parenting, I’m very proud of the example I’m setting for my children. Recently, after finishing a run, my daughter asked, “Mommy are you faster than last time?” Questions like this make me happy, because my daughter understands that my fitness efforts are more about celebrating what my body can do, instead of fighting against it. Bringing two healthy babies to term in my body also helped me recognize how freaking amazing the human body can be and appreciate it a lot more.
My husband and I try to set the example of how food is a tool to help make us strong, keep us healthy and let us grow. I’ll admit that there have been some pretty tough moments, like when I saw a 15 pound spike in the scale because of some issues surrounding my body and sodium, and my daughter compared my belly to Santa Claus, but for the most part I’m proud to say that we are body positive.
Body types are hereditary, whereas for the most part attitudes about our bodies and healthy food are something we are taught, by our relatives, family friends, teachers, and the media. In junior high our gym teacher welcomed us back from summer break telling us that she was happy we were all “growing up and hadn’t grown out over the break”, essentially labeling a fat body as an undesirable one to a group of impressionable middle schoolers. This is terrible. We all need to practice a little more self-love for ourselves so we can, in turn, pass it along to our children.
Even if you’re like me and you’ve had a tumultuous relationship with your body that rivals some of the scariest roller coasters out there, there are some thoughtful ways to discussing our bodies with our kids. Here are five simple things you can do and say to help your kids build a more positive body image.
Stop Making Food The Enemy
When you say that you’re not eating dessert tonight, or eat something completely different from the rest of the family in hopes of shedding some weight, it has a lasting impact. A Harvard study revealed a direct correlation between a mother’s concerns about her weight are one of the primary causes of body issues in teenagers and young adults. Another paper found that fathers who were unhappy with their own bodies were more likely to “monitor” their children’s foods, thus contributing to the likelihood of their child developing an eating disorder.
Stop Criticizing Your Own (and Other People’s Bodies)
You know those days when you try on 12 different outfits before going out because everything makes you “look fat” or when you go on a crash diet because you gained weight during the holidays? Your kids see that. Work on practicing self-love through affirmations each day. It may seem silly at first, but it really helps!
Complement People On Things That Don’t Involve Weight Loss
If your friend looks fantastic from shaping up, don’t be afraid to say so, but keep the scale talk out of your vocabulary. Talk about how amazing they did at the marathon, how their skin is glowing. Praising weight loss sends a message that someone is less valuable when they gain weight. Put a greater focus on abilities and skills and less so on how someone looks, for both kids and adults.
Make It About Being Healthy And Not A Goal Weight
Healthy isn’t the picture on a fitness magazine, even though a lot of times we’re led to believe this. A healthy person can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Create healthy habits together like eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and a wide variety of food. Help your child find types of exercise they enjoy and set an example by finding one you love as well. Plant a garden together so you can enjoy the healthy bounty of your efforts. Eat your meals together, and make it fun!
Speak Up About The Media
Be open when your child talks about how they’re feeling about their body and really listen. Be critical of the media. Talk about photo shop and embrace body diversity together. Ask them how particular images make them feel and have an open discussion. Make sure your child understands that their body will change as they grow older, and even when they’re adults, and that this is completely normal, as is frustration and disappointment from time to time.