Studies prove that the way we feel about ourselves influences our likelihood of engaging in health-promoting activities like honoring our hunger, seeking satisfaction, and joyful movement. Children who are modeled positive body image will tend toward better eating habits, an active lifestyle, and greater self-confidence. On the other hand, dieting, weight concerns, and body dissatisfaction have all been reported in children as young as age 7 to 9 years. And the primary source of this messaging is family, especially mom. Mothers who attempt to control their weight and size influence the ideas, concepts and beliefs young girls have about food and their own bodies. Learning happens not only by explicit instruction, but by observation as well. Meaning even when you think they’re not paying attention, they’re paying attention. This Mother’s Day, affirm your commitment to end generations of body shame and instead model body respect.
First and foremost, accept that you are an imperfect human who is doing the best you know how to with the tools that you have. Forgive yourself for the times you may have been less than a positive influence in the past. Learn from your mistakes with self-compassion so you can move forward with a new intention.
Weight controlling behaviors greatly impact the lens through which children view themselves. Weighing yourself, mirror checking, exercising to ‘earn’ and ‘burn’ food, and dieting relay powerful messages about the purpose of having a body. Be mindful of the message you are conveying during experiences like swimsuit shopping and photo taking. Children are more likely to pick up on and remember things they see that are emotionally charged than the ‘lessons’ you preach. Your intuitive eating and joyful movement are the best guides to arm your child in our body-conscious society.
Bodies come in all shapes, colors, abilities, and sizes. But the media we consume often only highlights the white, thin, able-bodied ones. That’s why it’s important to diversify the input your children consume. Normalize things like stretch marks and cellulite. Divorce health from weight; they are not synonymous. Neutralize the word ‘fat’; it’s an adjective and a noun, not a feeling. There are a wealth of books, movies, and other resources out there to support this mentality. Seek ones that promote that all bodies, regardless of their appearance, are good bodies.
It can help to reframe our negative self-talk into appreciation for the experiences our bodies allow us to have in life. Focusing on the functionality of our bodies confirms that they’re meant to be celebrated, not critiqued. Affirmations like, ‘I take care of my body, and my body takes care of me’ can also be a valuable part of this practice.
When you find yourself about to say something self-depricating, finish it with a positive spin:
Especially when it doesn’t feel easy or comfortable. Remember, those ears absorb more than you think! Your relationship with food and your body has the biggest impact on your child’s relationship with theirs. Comments like, ‘My arms are too big to wear tank tops’, or ‘I avoid carbs because they make me fat’ only reinforce the idea that there is a right and a wrong way to have a body. While these comments intend to protect children from a society that’s fatphobic, they ultimately don’t foster self-acceptance or authenticity.
PRO Tip: Remove the word ‘flattering’ from your vocabulary!
Broaden the vocabulary you use to talk about yourself and others as more than just a body. Celebrate non-physical qualities like creativity, curiosity, and altruism that you respect. This will help your child decouple a person’s worth from their appearance. In the end, we can only take our children as far as we’ve come ourselves. If you are a parent who struggles with your relationship with food and your body, consider counseling with me. Together we’ll equip you with skills to protect your child from society’s harmful messaging.