If you’re familiar with my Instagram stories than you already know how much Vivienne is talking and copying our every move. It’s equally adorable as it is scary, as it’s a true testament to what we allow ourselves to say and how we act in her presence. I have goals to raise confident women who undeniably love themselves and embrace their bodies. I am aware it doesn’t happen over-night, we make many mistakes ourselves, but I truly believe that self-love starts at home.
So, what can we do as parents when we are conscious of our role? Model positive behavior toward yourself and about the subject. I’ve collaborated with Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, a Maternal Health Specialist, Child Feeding Expert, and Food and Body Image Coach for Mothers who is providing her expert opinion on the subject. Crystal is passionate about helping mamas build a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies, so they can confidently nourish their kids and bring joy back to eating.
Crystal explains, “our kids today are faced with more pressure than ever to change their bodies and the way they look to feel valued and accepted. We are bringing up our kids in an age of social media, filtered images and in a society that worships an unrealistic body type. Children grow up believing that their worth is tied to their appearance or the shape of their bodies, starting from very young ages.”
How is this impacting our kids?
“Numbers don’t lie, and sadly, kids are dealing with a host of problematic mental health issues that stem from poor body image, which can affect them for the rest of their lives.”
Kids who are unhappy in their bodies are more susceptible to:
- Self-esteem issues
- Eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia nervosa
- Chronic dieting and disordered eating behaviors
Crystal adds, “on top of this, kids who are insecure in their own bodies are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors to try to change their appearance. If you believe this is something that only happens to girls in middle school or high school, think again. Research has found that over 1/3of 5-year-old girls are restricting their food intake to fit a thin ideal, and more kids than ever before are experiencing body image as young as preschool-ages.” This is terrifying!
As parents, what can we do to help our children build a positive body image and self-esteem?
“The good news is that we have more influence and impact on our children than we may realize.”
“While there are many elements outside our control, like exposure to media messages that promote dieting, there are many powerful ways we can build up our children to be resilient to the lies that they have to change themselves in order to be accepted and loved. We can truly bring up children who are confident in their bodies and in who they are, no matter their size and shape.”
Crystal is sharing 5 things you can start doing TODAY to help the child in your life build body confidence and self-esteem:
- Watch Your Mouth: Commenting about your kid’s weight or body size can cause more harm than good, even if you’re intending it to be helpful. The truth is that when kids perceive that their weight is being scrutinized, they are more likely develop a negative body image or fall into disordered eating behaviors. If a child’s weight is emphasized in discussion, this can also reinforce the idea that losing weight or thinness are the most important things to strive toward. Always check yourself before you say anything to a child about their weight. No matter how good your intentions are, it’s best to leave any mention of weight out of conversations entirely. If you are concerned about your child’s health, understand that there are many more important aspects of health to emphasize outside of their weight or body image.
- Highlight Function Over Appearance:Kids are so used to hearing comments directly about their appearance that they begin to form the idea that their looks are the most important thing about them. Instead of offering looks-related compliments, search for other ways to build up their confidence and self-worth. Help your child learn to relate to his or her body beyond the surface level attributes by focusing on what they can feel and do. Emphasize whoyour kids are, outside of their looks, to help them understand that their lives have more purpose beyond anyone’s evaluation of their appearance. For example, you can recognize them for being kind, helpful, or creative. Or you can encourage them to see what their bodies allow them to do, like run, play, paint, etc.
- Talk Positively About Yourself: Kate Winslet once shared, “As a child I never had one woman say to me, ‘I love my body’. No woman ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’ I make sure to say it to my daughter because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.” When is the last time you intentionally said something positive about your body in front of your kids? Our kids are learning how to relate to their bodies by our own examples, so it’s important to reflect on the messages you are sending your kids. Celebrate the functionality of what your body is capable of, and let your children be part of that celebration. If it feels awkward or foreign to speak positively about your body in front of your kids – don’t give up, and don’t stop doing it. With each step of faith, you are teaching yourself a different story about your body. In the process, you are showing your children that all bodies are worthy of celebration – yours and theirs, too.
- Celebrate Body Diversity:Mainstream media often portrays an unrealistic body type, which many kids believe is the only acceptable way to have a body. It’s important for kids to understand that there are many different types of bodies, and all bodies are worthy of respect and care. This frees kids to not only be more confident in themselves but accepting of other people and the diversity of bodies they may encounter. Weight stigma is a very real issue, and parents can be a powerful stopping force against this by creating space for all bodies to exist. In doing this, you are also emphasizing that your child deserves to take up space doing good in this world – no matter what.
- Separate Your Body Image Issues From Your Kids: If we really want to raise a generation of children who are resilient to the destructive lies that will tell them they will never be enough, or that they have to change their bodies to be accepted, it has to start with US. If we want to immunize our children from diet culture, we have to set ourselves free FIRST so that we can be the change we want for our children. This is so much easier said than done. It takes courage to create change and face the fears that are often wrapped up in our own insecurities. If you’re struggling in this area or simply want to be a more positive example with your kiddos, you can start here and now, no matter what your past has been. No matter how you feel about your body, don’t criticize or shame yourself in front of your child. What is impacting our kids the most is the relationship they see us have with our own bodies. If that is a toxic relationship, this is what our children are going to be more likely to model. If you struggle with poor body image, it’s important that you take the time you need to heal and get the help you need. When you can live in your own body confidence and positivity, that will naturally exude to your own children.
In conclusion, give yourself grace throughout the process and be empowered with the knowledge that you have the capacity to build a body confident child, one step at a time. Crystal and I truly believe it all can start with YOU… so be that person who inspires your child(ren) to be brave, bold, and courageous in their one and only, beautiful body and life.