We all struggle to love our bodies sometimes. Being constantly inundated with media portrayals of perfection, celebrity culture, and photo shopped advertisements can make people with even ideal bodies feel like they aren’t good enough. This pressure is especially hard on today’s children.
Our children are the most media savvy generation in history and the impact of body perfection has caused untold damage to their self-esteem.
We as parents need to address these issues and help them find ways to love the body they are in, regardless of what they think they are supposed to look like. Unfortunately, this is a major challenge because we are up against really powerful societal messaging. So it’s hard to know how can you approach the subject and be sure that you are raising confident children who love their bodies. So here are some basic guidelines to help you teach your children to be body positive.
Lead By Example
Children absorb everything we do. We are their primary lens to the world. So the most important way to teach your children to be body positive is to start by loving your own body. It’s hard as a mother, we don’t always have the time to take the healthy steps to keep our bodies in good shape and we often unfairly punish ourselves for not recovering our pre-baby bodies. However, when we indulge in negative self-talk, our children hear that message. If we call ourselves “fat” or wish we had the features of other people, we are sending a message to our children that they should compare themselves to other people’s ideals. So we inadvertently pass on our own insecurities to them and train them to think critically about their bodies. So as difficult as it is, the best place to start teaching your children about body positivity is to start by loving yourself.
Be Aware Of How You And Other Adults Talk To Your Children
Children are under enough pressure from the media and their peers to have a perfect body. The last thing they need is to be under pressure from the adults in their life. So when you talk about bodies, whether it is yours, theirs, or others, be aware of what you are saying. Never place value judgments on things like weight or physical characteristics. Be mindful about both criticism and praise. Make sure to always keep the dialogue positive and focus on complimenting personality traits and skills. If you are going to compliment their appearance, make sure you aren’t also applying the idea that they look good because something else is bad. Show them there is beauty in all body types and shapes. Furthermore, if other adults in their lives are feeding into negative body image, correct them. Do not let their words contradict what you are teaching your children about body positivity.
In the West most beauty standards are built off of stereotypes and ideals of perfection, leaving little room for diversity. There are many ways you can challenge these stereotypes. First you can expose your children to different cultures, showing them that beauty is subjective and that what they see in the media, is not what is appreciated everywhere. Secondly, you can look for some unconventional beauty role models. There are more and more brands and advertisers incorporating body positive campaigns. These campaigns challenge notions of perfection for race, body type, and gender. So let your child see that there is room for diversity in our media and that we don’t have to hold ourselves to one standard. Finally, encourage them to find beauty in this diversity and then they will find the beauty in their own unique qualities.
Take On Media Beauty Standards
This can be challenging without placing a hierarchy on beauty. You don’t want to teach your children that skinny models are bad anymore than you want to teach them plus-sized individuals can’t be models. So when taking on beauty standards, it is best to just focus on why these exist. Explain how the beauty, diet, and fashion industries make money off of people being insecure. That the beautiful woman in the makeup ad is photo shopped to perfection, to make us feel like we need to buy makeup in order to be as beautiful as her. Show them how photographers use to tricks like lighting, makeup, and post-production effects to make models look different than they look in real life. Also, explain to them how these standards are not what normal people look like. The average American woman is a size 16 and the average man has a size 39 waistline, so these people do not represent the majority. There is also a lack of racial, ability, and gender diversity in media. So help your children understand that media beauty standards are not the best measure.
Take On Their Peers
Bullying is a huge problem in our schools. A lot of bullying is based on physical appearance. This can lead to a number of very bad consequences for our children from developing insecurities to eating disorders to even self-harm. This can be incredibly hard to challenge at critical ages during the tween and teen years because their peers define so much of their world. Taking on bullying is very difficult as a parent, especially when your child is being bullied based on their appearance. However there are some things we can do to instill our children with the confidence to overcome this pressure. First, we need to keep an open door policy for bullying discussion. Make sure that your children understand they can always come to you if they are being targeted. Listen to their concerns and help them find a way to deal with their issues. Secondly, make sure your children are participating in activities that build their confidence. Whether they are good at sports or art or science, help your children find their personal strengths so they feel good about themselves. Lastly, show them their bodies do not define them. Don’t ever let your children think they can’t do something because of their appearance.
Teach Them To Define Beauty Themselves
This is a very important lesson. Beauty is subjective so you want to encourage your children to explore their own ideas of beauty. That means letting them experiment with their appearance and never telling them they can’t wear something because of their appearance. Though it may be difficult to understand some of their fashion choices and frankly, sometimes they may be embarrassing, if you let children find their own style whether it’s through weird clothing choices, hair colors, or makeup, you are teaching them they define what is beautiful. What matters is your child feels comfortable in their appearance, not that they meet society’s standards. So if your child wants to wear something silly, just remember their fashion choices help them feel confident in expressing their beauty.
Share Your Experiences With Body Issues
To our children, we are the most beautiful women in the world. Think about how beautiful your mother is and just know that your children look at you the very same way. So let them know that you have felt insecure about your body as well, but you do not let these insecurities define you. Let them know it’s okay to have bad days, where they don’t feel good about how they look. Also make sure that they understand they can express these feelings, that there is nothing wrong with feeling bad. There’s nothing worse than feeling guilty for feeling bad. When they are having a day where they are feeling insecure, let them know how you handle those days. Whether you use it as motivation to do better at work or if you just take that time to buy a new outfit or even use personal mantras like telling yourself you are beautiful, just show them you also feel this way sometimes and these feelings can be overcome.
Focus On Personality And Abilities
When you talk to your children about other people, yourself, and them, focus on talking about the internal qualities of that person. Compliment kindness, intelligence, and achievements, rather than physical appearance. This will help your children focus on the person rather than their appearance. Avoid any criticisms about appearance to help your children understand that beauty does not define merit. This will help them find strength and confidence through their abilities. Also always encourage others to pursue their passions and always acknowledge their success. If children see that you believe personality is more important than appearance, they will not be so caught up in beauty standards. Also, they will not reinforce those standards when it comes to defining the merits of others.
Encourage Healthy Behaviors
A lot of our body image issues manifest into negative relationships with diet and exercise. So it is important to focus on healthy living rather than outcomes. Encourage your children to eat healthy and workout because it feels good, not because it will lead them to an ideal body. Also, be careful how you frame their relationship with food. Never use food as a reward or punishment. Never make your kids eat when they are not hungry or deny them food if they are. Feed them a variety of foods. Focus on healthy foods but don’t deny the occasional indulgence in treats. Encourage exercise for the sake of health. Help them find physical activities they enjoy and will want to participate in. These things will all help your children develop a healthy relationship to food and exercise. How you guide this relationship will last their lifetime, so make sure you are focusing on the right things.
Do Not Forget Your Sons
We often think that beauty standards only affect women. Since our society often measures a woman’s worth by their appearance, we forget these pressures also impact our boys. Our sons are just as inundated with beauty standards as our daughters. Male models, celebrities, and sports heroes guide our son’s body image. So make sure to include your son in the conversation. Men have different body challenges than women, but they ultimately face a lot of the same pressures of body shaming. As you would with your daughter, talk to your son about body image and the pressures that he is facing. Let him know it is okay to feel insecure about his body and that body issues aren’t about gender.
Teach Your Children To Embrace Their Bodies
Above all else, teach your children to embrace their bodies. We only get one body in life and we should treat it with respect and care. A lot of the time self-esteem issues will manifest in neglect and self-abuse. This is very scary and can lead to some damaging long-term effects. So if they are feeling down, you need to help them find a way to love their bodies. Help them focus on what makes their body amazing. Do they have unique physical abilities like they can run fast or wiggle their ear lobes? Focus on those amazing things their bodies can do. Help them connect with their bodies and feel comfort inside. If they feel they need to make changes to feel good, help guide them so the changes are healthy and not self-destructive. No matter what, always encourage them just to love their bodies.
Combatting beauty standards is a challenge for us moms. Many of us struggle with these same issues ourselves. However, we never want to pass these issues on to our children. Instead we need to think about how we are helping our children define beauty, challenge unfair standards, and build body confidence. We need to remember that what we say to our children impacts how they see the world and themselves. So we must be careful so that we can ensure we are instilling good values in our children when it comes to their bodies. This can be an incredible challenge when facing societal pressures from media and their peers, but if we always keep the dialogue open for all our children and focus on what really makes a personal beautiful, our children will grow up to be body positive.