Have you ever heard your child use an unusual word you know you’ve said before? Whether it’s one you’d like for them to learn or to never say again is a different matter, but there is one thing this behavior tells us: kids are always listening.
That doesn’t stop when it comes to self-criticism, and more specifically, body-shaming. But what exactly is body-shaming? To understand that, you have to start with its reverse: body positivity. WellTuned explored the issue with the help of BlueCross psychologist Dr. Jill Amos and medical director Dr. Kelly Askins.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity is the belief that all people should have positive feelings about their bodies, whether society considers us fat, skinny or anything in between. Body positivity doesn’t mean you think your body is perfect, or that you don’t need work to become or stay healthy. It simply states that:
- Beauty standards are created by society
- They may be unreasonable, unattainable or unhealthy, and
- Those beauty standards shouldn’t stop anyone from feeling confident or worthy.
What is body-shaming?
Body-shaming is any behavior — verbal or nonverbal — that could negatively affect a person’s perception of their body. This could include negative words, disapproving comments on social media, judgmental looks, and so on. Body-shaming can have long-term psychological effects including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and body dysmorphia (a mental illness where you become extremely preoccupied with a perceived flaw).
Can you body-shame yourself?
Yes. Body-shaming is a learned behavior. Children aren’t born believing people are “fat” or “skinny” or “ugly” or “pretty.” Society teaches them those words, and we, as parents, may accidentally be doing things to make our kids more likely to body-shame themselves or others.
Here are 6 things you can do to build body positivity in your home.
1. Change your language
Rather than talking about being “fat” or “skinny,” talk about being “strong,” “healthy” or “active.” Point out and praise healthy choices, and talk positively about people you know or see in the media who are good examples of staying active. Avoid joking about anyone who’s over- or underweight, and if your child talks about someone in those terms, calmly explain why it’s not nice to do that.
2. Focus on nutrition, not on trendy diets
If you’re always switching diets or talking about cutting certain foods from your diet to lose or gain weight, you may be teaching your kids that food is about how you look rather than how you feel.
What we want to teach kids is that food is fuel, and it affects how our bodies perform.
So even if you’re dieting in a certain way, try to prioritize and talk about whole grains, fresh vegetables, drinking water, and so on. Focusing on nutritious actions that experts agree are healthy will help your child build good long-term habits.
3. Show your child it’s okay to indulge
Having a piece of chocolate cake on your birthday or a slice of pizza on Sunday shows your kids that indulging every once in a while is perfectly healthy, especially if you model moderation. Spend time making the cake or take a family walk before you indulge to show kids that anticipation and balance are all part of the equation.
4. Talk about bodies you see in the media openly and often
Americans can be exposed to 10,000 ads per day, yet only 5% of us have body types like the people we see in those ads. Children are not immune to this. In fact, nearly half of adolescent girls believe they are overweight (44%) and are actively trying to lose weight (60%) even when they are within normal body ranges.
The only way to combat this is to talk about our bodies honestly and often. Try:
- Talking about puberty and how weight gain or loss may happen as part of the process.
- Starting a discussion when you notice a TV show, song, ad or magazine that’s implying or saying that only one body type is acceptable, or that your appearance should be your most important goal.
- Discussing the fact that healthy bodies come in all shapes.
5. Give other people — and yourself — a break.
Judging ourselves and others based on appearance is almost a reflex — we do it without even thinking, so it’s important to be aware of that. Avoid talking about what someone should or should not be wearing, or about someone’s body in a negative way (your own included). Try to work in some positivity organically: Tell your child one thing you like about your body and ask her to tell you one thing she likes about hers.
6. Talk about beauty as the way you feel, not the way you look.
Our bodies, minds and emotions are connected, and there’s nothing wrong with dressing in clothes that make you feel confident, or wearing makeup if you choose to. Just be sure you talk to your kids about why beauty is not all about appearance but instead about all the things that make a person who they are — actions, attitude, kindness, thoughtfulness, and so on. If you show your kids that you find beauty in all kinds of people, they’ll be more likely to do the same.