Contributed by: Austin Raines
Body image is a widely discussed topic that impacts individuals from all walks of life and can significantly influence one’s mental health. With the rise of social media, the expectations for people to look a certain way has never been more prevalent, especially for teens and adolescents. While many of the messages being conveyed about body image aren’t inherently negative, social media is still pushing for the ideal version of people body’s to fit within a certain mold. This space has not yet adapted to the concept that all humas are different, and that diversity is what makes us special.
Social media continues to distort what our definition of beauty is supposed to be. These expectations lead to individuals creating unrealistic body image standards, comparing themselves to others, and a faulty perception of their own body. Research suggests that social media exposure leads to higher rates of body dissatisfaction and can contribute to unhealthy eating behaviors. Social media and the use of the internet has become nearly unavoidable; however, there are ways parents can help influence their child’s perception of their body in a positive manner.
To begin, I think it’s important to do some coaching around what positive body image does and doesn’t look like. Many people have struggled with negative body image their entire lives. This trial doesn’t disappear with parenthood, in fact it can become even more challenging with age and added life responsibilities. The ability to control certain area’s of life goes out the window, so people turn to diet, exercise, and appearance as a way to regain a sense of control. Once again, focusing on a healthier lifestyle isn’t inherently a negative, however the way this goal impacts your children can become detrimental.
So what can parents do to positively impact their child’s perception of their body? I have highlighted 8 strategies to focus on when trying to create a household that can foster a positive body image in your children and yourself.
- Role model positive behavior: Children watch and learn so much from their parents, so it’s important for parents to model positive body image themselves. Avoid activities negatively speaking about your body or others in front of your child and instead opt for positive or neutral language.
- Promote a healthy relationship with food: Encourage a balanced approach to eating by acknowledging the importance of fueling the body so it can perform to its full ability. This can be done through encouraging regular meals and snacks that incorporate a variety of foods.
- Promote open communication: By creating a supportive and non-judgmental environment, you can help foster in the belief for your children to be comfortable openly talking about their feelings and concerns about their eating habits and their body image.
- Promote body diversity: By teaching your kids that bodies can come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, you encourage them to appreciate and respect the diversity of humans and their bodies.
- Highlight abilities and strengths: Through emphasizing your child’s strengths and talents rather than solely focusing on their appearance, you will be able to create a sense of pride in one’s accomplishments rather than appearances. Foster an environment where members of the household feel open to engage in healthy activities they enjoy and that they feel confident.
- Educate on the impact of media: By teaching your children about the influence that media can have on body image, you can assist them in helping break down unrealistic beauty standards portrayed in varying forms of media.
- Avoid weight-centered language: Be mindful of the language you use when discussing bodies and food. Avoid making negative comments about weight or appearance, as this can contribute to body dissatisfaction. Instead, focus on health, well-being, and body functionality.
- Seek professional help if needed: If you notice signs of disordered eating or body image issues in your child, it’s important to seek professional help from a therapist or registered dietitian who specializes in body image related concerns or disordered eating habits.
It’s important to remember that working to create a household that focuses on fostering positive body image can be difficult! This can push people out of their comfort zones. For so long we have gotten accustomed to talking about or looking at our bodies a certain way, and it is a challenge to break those habits. It’s important to really focus on the language being used in your house and from there working on implementing healthy behaviors like those listed above. Ultimately, we all want to work toward being able to recognize and appreciate our bodies and everything they do for us!