Growing up is tough, and one of the most lasting issues children face is body image. Children — especially young girls — face more pressure now than ever before to fit into society’s (and social media’s) standards of acceptable looks. While these pressures can lead to extremes like body dysmorphia or eating disorders, a much larger percentage of children struggle with just being happy and feeling accepted. Some children feel like this despite being exceptional in academics or athletics.
Why does body confidence matter for children?
Struggling with body image starts at a much younger age than most people realize. For many women (and men), the conversation around their weight and appearance often has lasting effects. On a base level, it leads to a preoccupation with how you look. That preoccupation can interfere with thinking about everything else — school, interpersonal relationships, pursuing passions. There’s also a connection between a child’s body image to the stress they have interacting with their peers. Kids who don’t feel like they’ll fit in because of how they look often avoid trying to make friends or withdraw.
On the flip side, there could be negative external discussions from avoiding positive body image. Not teaching your child to respect people no matter their size means that your child never learns that phrases like “you sure you should eat that?” or sized-based nicknames aren’t appropriate. At worst, your child could learn to focus on the physical differences between themselves and someone new, defaulting to negative comparison rather than empathetic connection.
So how should parents get started talking to their kids about body image? And how can parents do this if they themselves are struggling?
Keep your language neutral.
This seems a bit counterintuitive, especially with popular TV shows and advertisements celebrating weight loss in before-and-after photos. Questions like “Did you lose weight?” are often prefaced with “You look great!” As well-meaning as these statements are, they still reinforce the notion that thinner bodies are “good” bodies. By keeping language neutral, you reduce the emphasis on appearance and can refocus positive messaging around non-physical accomplishments.
Celebrate the successes of people who have different body types.
If the only people you talk about with your children are muscled athletes or model-thin actresses, your child will notice a pattern. Yes, health is important to celebrate. However, a healthy body does not make a person inherently good or successful or better than another. As your children get older, those are the people they’ll naturally associate with success — regardless of the talents of others. Consciously talking about the accomplishments of people who look different from the societal norm — and talking about those accomplishments without mentioning looks — will reinforce to kids that differences in how we look should never stop someone from achieving their goals.
Find help yourself, if you need it.
Parents might struggle to explain body confidence to their children if they don’t believe it themselves. But plain and simple, if you can’t walk the talk, your kids will pick up on the negative behaviors you’re telling them to avoid. This includes negative self-talk, unhealthy eating behaviors, or reliance on fad diets rather than sustainable, healthy eating. One study found that girls as young as 5 had a negative self-image. Why? Because they perceived their mothers also had a negative self-image.
At Lake Forrest Prep, we want to set a foundation for every child to excel, and we believe a big part of that comes from accepting and loving who they are. Our values are rooted in nurturing growth, challenging minds and enriching the lives of our students. To discover more about what sets Lake Forrest apart from other Orlando preparatory schools, schedule a tour by calling 407-331-5144. For more tips on helping your child further their learning outside of the classroom, check out our blog for parents.