Healthy Body Image: Your Kids Deserve It!
By Amanda Grossman-Scott
This is the first in a series of articles addressing body image. Helping Kids to Develop a Healthy Body Image is the second article in this series.
Until about the age of 8, I don’t remember thinking much about my body. Oh I’m sure I thought, “I want to do a better cartwheel” or “I want to climb all the way across the monkey bars” but it never occurred to me that my body may not be good enough. This changed the summer before I turned 9 and my Dad began focusing his efforts on warning me to “stop eating so much or you’re gonna get fat”. I wasn’t overweight. I look at pictures of this time of my life and I think “that little girl is perfectly normal”. Maybe my Dad was worried about my healthy appetite and changing body and this was his way of cautioning me to be careful. But I was 8 years old and what I heard was “you’re going to get fat! Pay attention to your body!” and I’ve thought about my body weight every day of my life since.
What is Body Image?
“Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. Healthy body image is a clear, true perception of your shape. [If you have a healthy body image,] you feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.” (“What is Body Image?”, n.d.)
How Our Attitudes Affect Our Children’s
Until recent years, it seems like no one talked about healthy body image in raising children. I’d like to think we have better tools available to help us do a good job of raising a child with a healthy body image. Still, I’m surprised at the behavior of some parents who say obviously detrimental things to or in front of children. “Your children pay attention to what you say and do — even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. If you are always complaining about your weight or feel pressure to change your body shape, your children may learn that these are important concerns.” (“Body Image and Your Kids”, 2009) This means that even if you never say a thing about your child’s weight or eating habits but are vocally preoccupied with your own, your child is learning a lesson from you. If you are concerned about your body, keep it to yourself. It’s great to let your kids see you exercising and making smart food choices, but let them know you’re doing it because it’s healthy and makes your body feel good.
Developing Body Image
The fact is, your child will become aware of his or her body soon enough. They will see actors and advertisements that make them feel like, to be normal, they must achieve a certain body size. Whether it’s a super muscular man or a super skinny woman, your kids are going to see that for the most part, the media portrays just one type of body for men and one for women as “perfect”. It’s your job as the parent to teach them before they are confronted with these images that people come in all sizes, to “celebrate all of the amazing things [the] body does- running, dancing, laughing, dreaming” (“10 Steps to Positive Body Image”, n.d.) no matter what shape it is, and that inherent self-worth doesn’t come from outward appearance; but from the kind of person we are and how kind we are, to ourselves and others.
It can take adults years of discovering the good inside of them to improve a damaged body image. But if we start teaching our children when they are young, by encouraging them to develop a healthy body image no matter what size they may be throughout life, we might just give them a shot at a healthy mind and body image from the start.
Ready to talk with your kids about healthy body image? Check out these fun, engaging books, Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story, A Journey to Healthy Body Image and Messages About Me: Wade’s Story, A Quest for Healthy Body Image. Each of these has a great story and great discussions and activities at the end!
Coming Next: Helping Kids to Develop a Healthy Body Image
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Amanda Grossman-Scott has written for various magazines, newspapers and blogs and has been active in the journalism industry intermittently for the last 15 years. She studied Journalism and Communications at Utah Valley University. Amanda is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and now lives with her husband and three children in Sacramento, California.
What is Body Image? | National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). What is Body Image? | National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-body-image
Body Image and Your Kids. (2009, September 22). Body image and your kids. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/kids/
10 Steps to Positive Body Image | National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). 10 Steps to Positive Body Image | National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/10-steps-positive-body-image