What Is Body Image?
Body image is the way you feel about your body. Children who have a healthy body image feel good about their bodies. They are happy with how they look, how their body moves and grows, and what their body can do. Body image is part of a child’s whole self-image.
Having a good body image helps kids feel confident. It adds to their self-esteem. Children with a poor body image don’t feel good about their body or looks. A poor body image can take away from a child’s self-image. It can lower self-esteem.
A healthy body image grows over time. It starts in babyhood and it builds as kids grow. It changes when kids go through puberty. Things like this gets shaped by what others say. At every stage, parents can do things to help support a child’s healthy body image.
Why is body image important?
There are several possible consequences to having a negative body image. A poor body image can lead to low self-esteem; feelings of isolation, unhappiness, and depression; and unhealthy attitudes and/or behaviors toward eating and physical activity. For overweight children these issues can be magnified, given our society’s concept of a “perfect” body. Being teased or made fun of is one of the more painful consequences of being an overweight child. Our children face more challenges and responsibilities than did past generations. Recent research shows that depression and anxiety are increasing among our youth. As a result, it is important to take steps to promote mental health. One way of doing this is to nurture a healthy body image.
How parents can be a role model?
The most influential role model in your child’s life is you. Parents can encourage their children to feel good about themselves by showing them how it’s done.
Include the following points in your everyday life to help your child:
- Children learn eating behaviours from their parents, so make sure you include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. You must go easy on takeaway, fried foods and sugary snacks. Try to include these as ‘occasional’ foods, rather than labelling foods as good or bad.
- Avoid dieting and do not encourage your child to diet either. Dieting can be dangerous as it can cause symptoms such as dehydration, weakness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and constipation, and can lead to inadequate vitamin and mineral intake. It is also a key risk factor in developing an eating disorder.
- When you go grocery shopping, let kids help you choose healthy fruits and vegetables and read nutrition labels together to teach kids about healthy eating habits.
- Don’t focus only on outer appearance. Do talk about what it means to be a good person. Praise your child on his or her “inner” attributes.
- Be aware of the impact of negative body talk around your children, about your own body or other people’s.
- Watch your words and don’t say things like, “I look so fat in this,” or “I can’t eat this because it’ll make me fat.” Your child is listening and learning from you.
- Accept other people’s body sizes and shapes. Don’t put a lot of emphasis on physical appearances or your child will too. Instead, try to talk to your child about all the different aspects that make up a person, such as personality, skills and outlook on life.
- Exercise regularly, and keep the focus on health and fun. Have at least one family activity per week that involves some kind of exercise; for example, dancing, playing backyard cricket, going for a walk or swimming.
- Weight-related teasing is a major basis for bullying. Encourage your child’s school to address the issue. Ask them to support nutrition and physical education that promotes health for kids of every size.
- Listen to their concerns about body shape and appearance. Puberty, in particular, can be a worrying time. Reassure your child that their physical changes are normal and that everyone develops at different times and rates.
- Be critical of media messages and images that promote thinness or masculine ideals. Encourage your child to question and challenge Western society’s narrow ‘beauty ideal’.
- Encourage problem solving, expression of feelings, opinions and individuality. Providing opportunities for your child to problem solve will help them to build confidence in their abilities.
Can Teasing Affect a Kid’s Body Image?
Some kids get teased, bullied, or shamed about their body or looks. This can make kids feel deeply hurt. It can harm their body image and their self-esteem.
If this is happening, parents can:
- take steps to stop the teasing or bullying
- help their child repair the hurt feelings and shame
You can do this by talking and listening to your child. If it’s needed, you can get more help for your child from a counselor or therapist.
To some extent, being preoccupied with body image is normal, especially during the tween and teen years. Do not worry too much about it, especially if you don’t see body image interfering with your child’s normal activity, friendships, or willingness to attend social gatherings. Continue to encourage your child and build his or her self-esteem during this time.