Helping Kids Develop a Healthy Body Image
By Brooke Barragan
This is the second article in a series on body image. To read the first, click here.
Eight pounds. That’s how much weight I’d gained when I stepped on the scale the other day for the first time in a month. And here’s how I would like to have reacted: a healthy Ha, what a summer so far, woops! Followed by a non-obsessive commitment to upping the exercise while not downing so many maple bars. Here’s how I actually reacted: sat down on the side of the tub and sobbed my broken heart out. Then the thought came to me, clear as day, This is not your worth.
The trouble is, while I understand that, I don’t believe it. Because I have, and have always had, a terrible body image. It’s undeniable that our culture and society foster an emphasis on physical appearance, and that on an indomitable scale. Where my husband and children and I live, you can’t go too far on the freeway without seeing a billboard for breast augmentation or fat removal/replacement, and you can’t walk down more than a few aisles at the grocery store without seeing someone sporting fake eyelashes. It’s one thing to deal with what these images and influences do to me – I am constantly battling an obsession with trying to be better looking – but now, as a mother of 4, my more urgent worry is how to help my kids survive unscathed and with a healthy sense of self.
Here are three measures I am taking in order to help my kids develop a healthy body image:
- Resist complimenting them on their appearance. Now, I’m certainly not saying I never tell my kids they’re beautiful. I do. But the idea is to seek out other ways to validate them more often so that the emphasis is on their worth rather than their appearance. In this same vein, it’s so important that when we are talking about others we don’t place emphasis on their appearance. Our kids are listening. Always. Even when they’re not, they are. And if they hear us making someone sound valuable or worthless because of the way they look, they will absolutely learn from that.
- Just let ‘em eat! Anxiety at the food table is directly related to eating disorders and body image issues, and that anxiety can seep in even when you think you’re harmlessly encouraging them to just finish their dinner. I present healthy foods, let the kids see me eating them, and resist every urge to have any conversation beyond that.
- For crying out loud, don’t self-deprecate. This one seems very, very basic to me and yet I hear parents do this all too often. Example is the best teacher, and our kids are going to learn to behave as we do. I mentioned before my lifelong struggle with body image, but you know what? My kids have no idea. I never allow them to see me or hear me in my struggle, and I ask family and friends not to engage in that type of conversation in front of them as well. (Read this post about positive self-talk.)
All three of these measures have something in common: conversation. How do we resist the impossible customs and habits our world culture is teaching us and our kids about our bodies? Just shut up about it! Stop talking about it all together. I’m confident that if we resist our urges to talk about it, to post articles about it, and if we just shut up about it, we and our kids will be OK.
Ready to talk with your SONS about healthy body image? Check out Messages About Me: Wade’s Story, a Boy’s Quest for Healthy Body Image.
Or check out Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story, A Journey to Healthy Body Image for GIRLS.
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Brooke Barragan is a mother of 4 and an advocate for positive body image.