Verena Dickson, MSc, RNutr

Child Nutritionist

The media has created a benchmark of attractiveness which many young people judge themselves against. And a large proportion of children have internalised the societal beliefs about the ideal body. Messages about the perfect appearance are everywhere and we cannot shield our kids from them. However, we can strengthen our kid’s body confidence and their resilience against media messages.

Idealised bodies in the media and diet culture are not a new phenomenon. Most of us grew up watching our mums complain about their tummy fat and jumping from one diet trend to another. This certainly didn’t help with the development of our own body image. The message that thin means worthy has been ingrained in us and is often hard to let go. But our children today are subject to even more intense pressures than previous generations.

With the rise of social media, filtered, perfect lives become more “real”. It is not the celebrity out of a fashion magazine, which promotes unattainable beauty standards, but the girl next door. While we can shield young kids from social media, preteens and teens find their way into the world of online “socialising” eventually. That’s when a new set of standards are presented to them. Sadly, those ideals are bursting with filtered beauty, ripped bodies, “clean” foods and fake news.

It is our duty as parents, to equip our children with media literacy and a strong sense of self-worth. That way we can reduce the damaging impact of social media and even cyberbullying.

Raising body confident kids and building resilience against media influence is not an action, it’s a process. Many parents need to go through a mindset shift and heal their own body relationship in the process. Nearly all parents will occasionally slip, sending unhelpful messages about body sizes. It’s normal, societal beliefs about body shapes are deeply ingrained in us. But by building your own awareness and body acceptance, brick by brick you will construct a strong foundation of self-love in your child.

Be A Role Model

Your child loves you and wants to grow up to be just like you. As a natural consequence, children copy and imitate your every action. You will recognize yourself in their play. From talking on the phone, to putting your make-up on or baking a cake. But kids also pick up on more nuanced behaviours. Like how you treat yourself, how you talk about your own body and how you observe other people’s bodies.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance, that you treat yourself with respect, embrace your body regardless of its shape or size and stop negative weight talk.

I know this can be incredibly difficult. I have spoken with hundreds of parents who are unhappy with their own bodies. It is important to recognize your feelings towards your body image and take it from there. You might want to unfollow profiles on social media who make you feel bad about yourself. Or you get a good book that teaches you to honour your body (you’ll find some of my favourite suggestions here). Or you might even decide to reach out to a healthcare professional who can help you with healing your relationship with your own body. Wherever you currently are on the journey of self-acceptance, a positive shift will have an immensely positive effect on your child. Being a body confident role model to your children will massively boost their relationship with their own body.

Separate Appearance From Worth

Separate appearance from worth in your words, thoughts and actions. Our words and actions shape the way our children see the world. This gives us both responsibility and opportunity. Responsibility to make our children feel safe, loved and welcome in the world. And the opportunity to teach them kindness, candidness and acceptance.

Refrain from describing people by their appearance. Instead, comment on their strengths and characteristics. For example, instead of saying “you’re so pretty” you could say “you’re so clever/kind/creative/funny/caring/etc”. This way, you teach your children to look beyond physical appearance.

What if your children pick up negative weight talk from outside of you home? They will most likely experience some form of negative weight talk at some point in their young lives. Whether the weight talk was directed at them or someone else, talk to your children about body shape in a neutral way. Some bodies are bigger, some are smaller, some are taller, others are shorter. It is the differences in our appearance that make us unique and we should embrace them. Ultimately, what matters most is what’s inside the body; a kind heart, a caring little boy or a curious little girl.  

Celebrate Body Diversity

Exposing your child to a diversity of body shapes and skin colours in toys, books and media will naturally make them more accepting and less likely to judge by appearance. No matter whether our children are large, small, or anywhere in between, teaching them to show respect to themselves and others is important.

For a list of body diverse resources for children, follow this link.

Introducing children to diversity through books, games, toys and films helps them realise that we’re all humans. The differences in how we look or dress, or what we eat or celebrate make us unique and interesting. All types of differences such as race, religion, language, traditions, and gender can be introduced this way.

No Comments

There is no comment for this post

Leave a Reply