“Body Image” has 3 components: Perception, ideals, and sense of self. Perception includes how you see yourself, whether we see ourselves as others do, and how much we focus on one feature of our appearance vs the whole. Ideals refers to whether or not we like how we look, our perception of beauty, how much our ideals match those of others, and our ideas around how closely reality should match fantasy. Our sense of self is built on both our perception and ideals, and on what we value about ourselves outside of our physical appearance.
We know that what we say and do is the most powerful teacher for our children. How you talk about and treat your body will speak volumes to your children and so will how you talk about other people’s bodies.
First and foremost, be honest with yourself about how you feel about your own body. Observe without judgment how you move through the world. Are you self conscious? Are you ashamed? Do you stare at other people’s bodies and feel envious, disgusted, or anything that objectifies bodies rather than viewing them as instruments? It is so natural to feel that way, as we have been raised in a culture that reinforces this daily.
Make an effort to shift your thinking. Notice the less obvious moments such as when you are praising your child for how a body part looks. Yes, that’s positive, but really– why are you introducing the idea of a good looking vs not good looking body. Again, focus on a body that works well vs a body that is struggling.
Avoid making negative comments about your looks.
Try not to comment on other people’s appearance or eating habits.
Don’t give positive attention to physical aspects of other people’s bodies - like muscles, thinness, hair, or skin.
Stay away from diet talk, even if it is about health. Zip it!
Talk about how you find beauty in more expansive ways than media and society suggest – wrinkles when you laugh, or bark on trees.
Change the cycle in your family by talking to grandparents about these issues so they don’t make comments.
Discuss what you see and notice in your children’s media consumption.
Read books that celebrate people with a range of different body types.
When in doubt, remember that our bodies are instruments NOT objects. If you catch yourself objectifying others, reframe immediately.
“Fat is not a bad word, we all have fat on our bodies just like we have skin, hair and bones. Some people have more or less and it changes at different points in our life. How has your body changed as you’ve grown?”
“Your body is an instrument, not an object. We are so lucky to have unique, amazing, and different bodies that take care of us and adapt to the world around us. That is some pretty cool science.”
“We can stay healthy by listening to our bodies and how they feel when we eat certain foods.”
“Moving our bodies isn’t only about getting strong, staying flexible, and being healthy, it also helps us learn more, sleep better, and be in a better mood.”
“You don’t have one characteristic that defines you. You define yourself, and you get to choose what you put out in the world.”
Family meals, from the first solid to adulthood, have been linked with all kinds of impressive outcomes, including improved academic performance, higher self-esteem, and lower incidence of substance use. Try to eat at least 4 meals per week as a family, and check out familydinnerproject.org for conversation starters. Make sure the conversation centers around topics unrelated to food. Mealtime benefit families because of the connection, not the bites taken.
Remember that studies show that physical activity is essential to how children learn, regulate, and connect. Get in the habit of physical activity as a family, and keep it up throughout your child’s development.
Relationships help children to manage the normal strains and stresses around body image, puberty, and development. Having an open and supportive relationship with YOU, helps your child to bring questions or concerns into their daily lives. If you’ve had struggles around body image, make peace with your own experiences so that you can be present for your child. Try to break the cycle of punishing behavior or negative messages that can follow us into adulthood.
I hope these tips help to navigate this tricky topic. Post a comment, message me on Instagram, or email me with your thoughts and questions. We are in this together, and I’m grateful to have this community.
Thanks for being a part of Raising Good Humans. We are in this together.