If you’re a parent, you have more than likely endured the complete humiliation that comes with your child asking (in the middle of a busy supermarket in the loudest voice possible) ‘why is that person so FAT?’ Believe it or not, this is one of the best questions your child can ask and can be a stepping-stone to opening the conversation about body image, diversity and acceptance. If you’re ready to dive into that taboo question like a pro, while setting you and your child up for many, many more important conversations like this one, here are the 3 top tips you can start today to rock the talk on body positivity.
Every parent’s dream is to hear that our kids are setting the example for others by being the inclusive, diversity embracing star we know they are. Chances are, you have had a talk with them about embracing others, even the ones that don’t fit in or seem different. While recognizing that every body is unique, diverse and as worthy as the next, it can be hard to accept our own body as worthy and amazing. Without realizing it, we often pass on the message that our own body is not good enough the way it is. Are you constantly dieting? Talking about how life would be better if you could lose a few pounds, wrinkles, or whip that mom/dad bod into shape? The first and most important way we as parents can help our kids feel safe in their body is to be aware of our own body image legacy and the message we are sending. Depending on what our own experience was growing up, conversations around bodies may come easy to us or they may be triggering because of our own body image baggage. If we were led to believe our body was a source of shame, embarrassment, “too much” or “not enough,” it may be difficult to navigate these conversations. When I work with my coach clients, one of the first things we work on is recognizing the importance of being mindful of how we talk about ourselves. Kids quickly pick up on how we talk about ourselves and decide how they should feel about their own growing and changing bodies. Even if you are struggling with your own body image and self worth, now is the perfect time to practice seeing yourself as the amazing person your kids know you are (even if they’re too cool to tell you). Make sure the majority of the way you talk about yourself (your wins and your failures) shows your kids you are whole and worthy just the way you are.
The second way we can keep our kids’ body positive is to be mindful of how we talk about their bodies. While this may seem like a no-brainer, as parents it can be easy to parent from a place of fear and concern instead of support and empowerment. It’s so important to refrain from making comments about your child’s weight, body size or even their food choices and activity level. The best thing you can do is lead by example and be the role model your kids need. Better yet, try to compliment your kids on attributes that aren’t physical. If they are thinking about trying out for something new, acknowledge their courage. Even if they didn’t do as well as you had hoped on their grades, celebrate the heck out of all their hard work. Ask them about something they failed at recently and help them realize what they learned from it. By validating their own internal, innate qualities, they won’t find the need to be validated by others. When you ask kids what they love about themselves, it’s a great way to get them excited about their own amazing and unique talents.
Even as kids grow into their tweens and teens, parents still have a big influence on how they see themselves. Especially nowadays with social media and more screen time than ever before, helping kids validate themselves in a world that has become more superficial and exclusive is a key part of resiliency. Tip 3 is so important that I’ve saved it for last: help your kids recognize diet culture messaging in the media.
Diet culture is a multi-billion dollar industry that exists to profit off of our biggest insecurities, and that usually means our weight, body and ‘health’. It’s targeting audiences at younger ages than ever before. The media is one of the most influential ways attitudes around body image, dieting, status, and worthiness starts. If you’ve noticed, there is a huge lack of diversity in the media, whether it’s TV, magazines, or social media. Many body types, ages, abilities and cultures are largely underrepresented in the mainstream media. This can be a great place to start having conversations to challenge what messages kids are being given. If you’re watching shows together, ask them questions about the characters in the show. Do they notice much diversity in body size? How are ‘bigger’ characters portrayed? With my daughters, I love to point out the qualities of strong female roles and how they identify with them. For older kids, it’s important to help them recognize the impact social media is having. Even pointing out subtle ways the media is sending the message that certain bodies ‘aren’t good enough unless they buy product ‘X’ can help them become better consumers. Research the companies that are body positive and inclusive. Help them recognize when certain social media accounts make them feel worse about themselves or keep them in ‘compare and despair’. Help them find groups or people that align with their values. And as parents, being aware of our own social media messaging is key. Posting authentically about all aspects of life can set a great example. Posting only the highlights sends the message that external validation and ‘likes’ are more important than reality.
Becoming body positive starts with us as parents and sends the message that how we celebrate our own diversity and worth first so that we can show up for our kids. In this way, we show them how to build a foundation that allows them to embrace their own unique qualities in a world trying to tell them they aren’t worthy unless they fit in a certain box. These are just a few of the ways that we can proactively help our kids stay body positive in today’s society which seems designed to do the very opposite. And for those of us who have struggled with our own body image, this is the perfect time to heal our relationship with ourselves as well. Our kids have big things to do in this world and it begins by showing them how strong, talented and worthy they truly are.
*This article is not intended to replace medical intervention. If you or someone you know is struggling with body shame and/or an eating disorder, please reach out to a licensed professional.