Kids’ Body Image: To Change Theirs, We Need to Change Ours
By Hannah Walker
From social media comparisons to hurtful names and bullying in schools, body image has become a major concern for children at younger and younger ages. It’s common to hear kids in junior high and even in elementary school talk about their weight, their muscles, and their height. They compare themselves to friends as well as the men, women, and celebrities around them. A study conducted in 2016 by the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin City University, asked students what the main factors in bullying were. Body image and weight scored high for both boys and girls (Donnelly, 2018).
How do we change this–not only for our girls but also for our boys?
While we do not typically think of boys when we discuss body image issues, they too are a risk. This comes from the false and negative perceptions they see from the media every day. Instead of feeling the need to be skinny, boys tend to be compelled by the need to be more muscular, lean, “ripped.” Boys tend to go to the gym compulsively and change their diet by binging and purging, in order to become more like the heroes in movies, TV, and books (Greenberg, 2018). While this isn’t healthy, either physically or mentally, boys are bombarded by so many voices saying that this life is only about how they look.
One of the most critical things we can do to help our children is also the most simple! Speak positively about ourselves and about our bodies!
The phrase, “Do what I say, not what I do” is all too apparent in the realm of comparison and social media. Dads, do we tell our children to stop talking about how ‘fat’ they are but then we turn to look in the mirror and mutter, “Wow. I have got to stop eating so much”? Stop. Rethink that statement. What else could we have said? Focusing on the things that we can do and the things our body is capable of is empowering both for fathers and their sons. (Check out 20 Ways to Compliment a Child That Have Nothing to Do With Appearance.)
Instead of negative phrases, like “I wish I could bike farther… If I were in better shape…” or “I wish I looked like that actor. Look at his abs!” we can say things like, “I love being able to bike,” or “Let’s be honest: my body isn’t made to look like that. But that’s ok. I like my body.” These types of statements are simple. They emphasize the great things our bodies can do and they don’t compare us to our neighbor, best friend, or celebrity crush. They allow for growth, change, and progress. Isn’t that exciting! (For further ideas on how to teach children about healthy body image, check out New Year’s & Body Image: 5 Tips for Teaching Kids.)
After years of speaking poorly about ourselves, we might have formed some pretty serious habits. Removing those habits and replacing them with others is going to take time and effort. But it will be worth it, so don’t give up! (Check out this article: Teach Your Child Body Gratitude).
Usually, a person’s actions have to start with their personal thoughts and perceptions. Sometimes our thoughts are more habits than truth. When this is the case we need to act before we can actually begin to believe and love ourselves. The first thing you need to do is speaking positively about yourself. Think of something about you that you love and build from there. Did you catch yourself starting to say something negative? This is normal, brush it off and replace it with something healthy, positive, and uplifting. As we do this, we’ll find that our entire mindset about ourselves is slowly being changed. Soon the truth will be more prevalent rather than the lies we have heard our whole lives. As time moves on we will be able to say, “Kids, follow my example.” Isn’t that what we always wish we could say?
In this world of social media, comparisons, photoshopping, and bullying, we can prepare our children in our homes to stand strong and assured that they are who they need to be. In order to build them up to stand against the negative trends of this world, they need to have healthy attitudes about their bodies and themselves. How do we create and, if need be, change their attitudes?
We change ours.
Great Discussion Questions to Ask Your Children:
- What makes someone beautiful?
- What makes you beautiful?
- What are some positive things that you can say about yourself when you don’t feel good about yourself?
- Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. What are some of yours? How can you use those to help other people?
Try this Activity With Your Child:
- Find something about your body that you need to work on being more positive about.
- Come up with something nice to say about yourself when you start feeling bad about it.
- Ask your child to help you remember the kind statement you have planned to say about yourself.
For more ideas for activities, conversation-starters, and questions to help your kids build healthy body image check out Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story (for girls) and Messages About Me: Wade’s Story (for boys), both available on Amazon.
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.
Collins, L. M. (2018, April 23). Body shaming can create lifelong problems, but who’s doing it may surprise you. Retrieved May 3, 2018, from https://www.deseretnews.com /article/900016552/body-shaming-can-create-lifelong-problems-but-whos-doing-it-may-surprise-you.html
Donnelly, K. (2018, April 24). Body image is main source of bullying. Retrieved May 3, 2018, from https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/body-image-is-main-source -of-bullying-36841485.html
Greenberg, B. (2018, May 7). Identifying Eating Disorders and Body Image issues in Boys. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents /articles/2018-05-07/identifying-eating-disorders-and-body-image-issues-in-boys