No, I’m not talking about that F-word… I’m talking about the word FAT and other less-than-flattering words people use to describe themselves and others. “I need to lose at least 10 pounds”, “I hate how fat my arms are” or worse… “look how fat she is!”. Sound familiar? We need to talk about what we say around our children and how phrases like these can impact a child’s body image for the rest of their lives.
I grew up around comments and conversations just like this and they’ve had a hugely negative impact on me. As a child, I became increasingly judgmental of others, and even more critical of myself which ultimately led to a negative body image and eating disorders.
Watch what you say
You might think that self-deprecating and somewhat unconscious comments about your own body are harmless. But the message you’re sending to your children (and yourself) is one of self-hate and that’s not okay. On the flip side, if you find yourself pointing out woman on the sidewalk commenting on how large she is, how she’s walking or how her shorts don’t fit right, STOP! No one has the right to make these harsh comments, let alone pass this judgmental attitude onto children. It’s not okay to talk about people, REAL human people, to objectify and judge them simply because they don’t look a certain way. And lastly, watch what you say to your children about their own bodies. What you may deem to be a simple joke about their body or eating habits will have a lasting negative impact on them if not brought up properly.
What should you be teaching children about their bodies?
With rare exceptions, we ultimately have complete control over our bodies. A beautiful body is one that fuels itself with whole foods, not trash. Exercise, not laziness. And awareness, not oblivion. Those who take care of the only thing they truly own – their bodies – are so beautiful. Teach your children:
That their bodies are designed to feel amazing, full of energy and never sluggish
About healthy and balanced foods so that they never have to diet
That whole foods are medicine and fuel, not the enemy
The difference between whole foods vs processed foods
That each body is designed differently, so never compare your body to anyone else’s
To exercise because it feels great, not to punish yourself
That sugar is a legal (and sometime lethal) drug, so treat it as such
That health is far more important than the number on the scale
The way we view ourselves starts early on and these views are progressive and developmental, so it’s never too early to start instilling healthy living habits and body positive messages to our children. Just think of how much more resilient they will be from the social pressures that surround them. The pressures to look a certain way are inevitable but it won’t get to them as much because they’ll be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to resist those negative messages.
How to encourage a positive body image
Talk about healthy eating and exercise without focusing on weight or appearance
Teach your children about how fibre and protein fills us up more than simple carbohydrates or sugar, for example. Or how the different nutrients in food like calcium or iron make you stronger. And how the human body was designed to move to help us stay energized. Leave appearance out of the equation and turn the focus on the feeling you get when you do things that are good for your body.
Changes to your body are totally normal
Hormonal changes are inevitable and what worked and felt good for us in our 20s may not work for us in our 30s. The same goes for our kids, especially during puberty. Tell them that changes to their bodies are 100% expected and totally normal so they don’t freak out and think that they’re the ones doing something wrong.
Compliment your children on what they do, not on how they look
As an adolescent, I used to get praised all the time for how much weight I had lost, how slimming my clothes were, and used to even get people openly guessing and discussing my weight. Meanwhile, I was suffering and struggling with my body image but kept on punishing myself with severe calorie restrictions and vigorous exercise just because that praise was so addictive. I know that the people in my life meant these comments to be nothing but flattering, but it actually bred even more insecurity. I urge you to shift the focus of complimenting your children on what they are doing rather than how they look.
Instead of complaining about your body or making comments that decrease your confidence and your child’s, try taking action instead. Show yourself and show your children that you are the only one in charge of your body and if you’re not comfortable with the way you look or feel then it’s up to you to change it. No amount of self-deprecating talk or complaining will do that. And if you really feel the urge to point out a large woman on the side of the street, perhaps start talking to your child about whole foods, activity and how important leading a healthy lifestyle is. And please, never call your kid fat. Not even as a joke. It’s not funny. The way we talk about ourselves, our children, strangers, diets and food can either have a lasting positive affect or very negative one.
Our children are sponges, soaking up our every word and actions. We are raising the next generation of humans and it’s 100% up to us to guide their values, ideas and principals that ultimately make the world a better place to live.
Love, peace & body positive