Body Image: How to Talk About It With Your Kids
I remember one of the first times I was introduced to the concept of “fat”. I was a third grader (about 8 years old) when a friend made the comment, “my mom told me if your arms or thighs jiggle, it means your fat.” As a child I remember feeling so concerned that because my thighs gave the slightest jiggle, I must have been fat. I grew up in the diet culture of the 90’s and early 2000’s and can remember watching countless Weight Watchers commercials on tv and going with my parents to Jenny Craig weigh ins where each pound lost was a jovial celebration. For any child, being surrounded by these constant messages that fat is bad and weight equals worth, promotes a fatphobic mentality that is scarring and has increasingly negative impacts on individual’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Children make meaning by taking in their surroundings and create core beliefs on what they witness and experience. When they are witnessing these commercials or experiencing people putting a negative connotation on bigger bodies, it can impact a child’s overall body image.
Body image is defined by GoodTherapy (2019) as “a mental picture of one’s physical body (including size, shape, and appearance), and one’s attitude toward the physical self (such as thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about one’s body).” Body image is commonly influenced through factors such as social media, media, family or peers, culture, and environment. You may think body image is formed in later years of life, but research has suggested that body image issues can impact children as young as 3 (FamilyDoctor, 2021). That is why it is crucial parents and caregivers understand how to effectively communicate and promote healthy body image with their children.
Below are tips for parents and/or caregivers for talking about, exploring, and promoting healthy body image for children:
- Be conscious of your own negative beliefs about weight, size, and health. Before talking to your kids about their own body image, be curious with your experiences relating to your view of your body and the beliefs you might carry about weight, size, and health. Our children learn from us, so we need to make sure we are expressing and exemplifying what we are teaching to our children in our own lives.
- Be mindful of your self-talk. If your child is bearing witness to you saying things like “I am so fat!” or “I really need to lose a few pounds to look good for this upcoming event”, they will learn that bigger bodies are not acceptable or being fat is bad. Children are always listening and will pick up on how you view your body and will ultimately internalize these views. So, be mindful and intentional in your communication and be aware of tendencies to criticize your appearance, especially in front of your children.
- Remember that weight does not equal worth. There is an especially prevalent tendency for people to equate weight with self-worth. People become fixated on an arbitrary number as a measure of their overall attractiveness, societal acceptance, and ultimate self-worth. Teach your children that weight does not equal health and each and every body is going to look different. These differences do not impact a person’s value. Ask your children questions about their views on people with different body shapes and sizes to gauge their views on weight and encourage them to use a lens of acceptance.
- Be mindful of media. Limiting a child’s exposure to harmful or toxic media can help to shape your child’s body image in a healthy way. Media, especially social media, leads to tendencies to compare ourselves to others, which can in turn negatively impact body image. It is important to talk to children, age appropriately, about how social media depicts unrealistic, often fake portrayals of individuals and promotes an unhealthy or unattainable beauty standard. These conversations can allow them to acknowledge this and practice more compassion and kindness to themselves and stop comparing themselves to others.
If you are struggling with talking to your children about body image, or are experiencing body image issues of your own, do not hesitate to reach out to one of our many qualified counselors in Chicago at Symmetry Counseling. Contact (312) 578-9990 for more information.
FamilyDoctor (2021). Body image issues (children and teens). familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/building-your-childs-body-image-and-self-esteem/.
GoodTherapy (2019). Body image. GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/body-image.
Written by Kara Thompson-Miller, Licensed Clinical Social Worker: January 2023 “Why is it so hard to like my body?”: A unassumingly complex question that has been asked by many clients in many different variations, but one that, nonetheless, tends…Read More
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