Inspiring Kids to Choose Their Own Body Image
By Hannah Herring
Growing up, my hair was almost always long. By the time I was twenty, I had allowed my hair to grow past my hips. One day, I woke up and announced to my roommate that I was getting my hair cut. We found a salon and walked in. I informed the hairdresser that I wanted it chopped off at about my jawline. I thought she was going to fall over from shock. She looked at me in surprise and after asking some more questions, put my hair in a clip and cut it off. Snip snip snip. I was free.
When we walked out of the salon a little while later, I realized that, for years, I had been carrying around all of that weight (literally) because other people liked my long hair. Suddenly, I was free. Since then, every time I get my haircut, I feel a similar freedom. People can say whatever they want but I love my hair now, more than I ever had before!
In the book Messages About Me: Wade’s Story one of the characters says, “I’m happy being me, and my parents say I’m pretty awesome just the way I am.” That is the kind of body image that we should want our children to have! We need to build our children’s self-image in healthy ways so that they can stand on their own, ignoring the peer pressure, negative media presence, and comparisons that social media feeds us. But how do we do that?
Here are 3 ways to help kids develop a positive body image:
- Have healthy discussions together. Ask questions or give prompts that help your kids remember what is good and beautiful about their bodies. For example:
- “What have you done today that took some effort from your body?”
- “Look at how far you ran! Aren’t your legs amazing?”
- “Tell me about something kind you did for someone else today. How did you have to use your body to assist them?”
- Be a good example. Even if you struggle with your own body image (as many of us do) try to speak positively about yourself. Through our children’s habits and quirks we often see the things we fault in ourselves. Why? Because a child will do what we do, not always what we say. So speak positively, act positively, and be optimistic! Express gratitude for your body every day, especially when you are feeling particularly bad or down about it. Our words and actions are POWERFUL! If we begin a habit of complimenting ourselves, we will start to feel better about ourselves and even change the way we think (Cuddy, 2012). For example:
- “Wow! I got such a good workout today! I love that my body allows me to run every day!”
- “I love this shirt! I think it’s super flattering on my body. I love my body!”
- “I’m really grateful for my body. I am so blessed. Look at everything that I got done today. All because my body is healthy and works well.”
- “I’m so glad I’m healthy. That’s what is important! Don’t worry about your size. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.”
- “I think that you have a beautiful body. When people make fun of you or tease you, tell yourself that what they’re saying isn’t nice and that their words do not change how beautiful you are. You can do so much! What are some of your favorite things to do with your body?”
- Teach them to be critical thinkers. Encourage your children to talk about why they decide to dress or act a certain way. Did they see something on TV? On social media? When you hear them saying negative things about their bodies, ask them why they said that. Help them to recognize how the media and peer pressure are affecting their perceptions of concepts like “beautiful”, “good-looking”, “handsome,” or “perfect.” For example:
- “That’s a new style. I like it. What made you decide to try it out?”
- “Did you do your make-up differently today? Do you like this new way? I think it looks nice. It accents your eye color well. Where did you get the idea?”
- “You just said that (name of a girl/teacher in a class/social setting) is gorgeous. What makes her so pretty? Who else do you think is pretty? What makes a person truly beautiful?”
- “Wasn’t that a great movie? I loved it! The guy was pretty muscular. Do you think that’s attractive? What do you think makes a man good-looking? Do you think they may have used a computer to enhance the way his muscles looked?”
You have a huge influence on your children’s self-image. Help them remember what’s great about their bodies and about them. Speak positively about your own body. Encourage your kids to talk about their reasons for dressing, acting, and reacting the way they do. They will begin to see that they can choose for themselves how to see their body–despite what media or others around them say. Let’s help them see that they have that ability! It takes practice, but it’s worth it!
For more information on teaching your kids about body image, check out our books Messages About Me: Wade’s Story, A Boy’s Quest for Healthy Body Image. and Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story, A Girl’s Journey to Healthy Body Image.
Hannah is from Utah and is a graduate student at Friends University studying Family Therapy. She plans to go into counseling with an emphasis in addiction recovery and trauma. From a large family, she loves children and their protection and education is top priority.
Cuddy, A. (2012). Your body language may shape who you are. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?referrer=playlist-the_most_popular_talks_of_all