Model, or Role Model? Building better body image for our children (and ourselves). 

September 18, 2012

Young kids can be like parrots – they’re small, sometimes they squawk, and they have a tendency to repeat and learn what they hear. That last point is well taken. When you say, “I’m trying to lose 10 pounds” in front of your five-year-old, you have just taught them something new. And it might not be something they needed to know. The NIH reports an estimated 25% of girls ages 10-14 are dieting. Another recent study found that 50% of girls ages 8-17 are concerned about weight.

How can you tell if your child has a negative body image? One of the strongest indicators is when a child only views and values herself or himself in terms of physical attractiveness. This may be coupled with excessive dieting, frequent comments about weight (of self and others), as well as the language he/she uses to describe physical self.

It’s a tough world out there. As kids face the pressures in media and on the playground, parents have an important role to play in boosting body image. We can start by explaining that:

  • there isn’t one “good” body size
  • bodies will naturally change and grow throughout life
  • personality is more important than physical appearance

In her book You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own, author Dara Chadwick offers these suggestions:

  1. Say at least one positive thing about yourself every day in front of your child
  2. Don’t make fun of your bodies – find something else to laugh about together
  3. Try not to compliment people’s weight loss around your child
  4. Don’t refuse to do something just because you think you’ll look “too big” or other people won’t like it – just do what makes you feel best
  5. Skip looking at yourself in every reflective surface you pass

Try to love your own body and model healthy body image as you interact with your child. By teaching her that you want to be healthy but don’t obsess about your body size, she is more likely to adopt that same focus. Make sure you are modeling and supporting a healthy lifestyle (eating well and exercising) instead of focusing specifically on weight or size, and encourage your child to avoid the scale as a means of determining their self-worth. Have regular conversations about stereotypes, prejudice and using words like “ugly” or “fat” as insults and how that can change someone’s body image.

We’re always saying, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” – perhaps it’s time we backed up this statement with some action in our families?

We’d love to hear how you have modeled and supported a healthy lifestyle for your children! Please share in the comment section below.