Reimaging Body Image

*Abby is scrolling through Facebook for the umpteenth time today only to see girls with picture-perfect skin, hair, makeup, and bodies. She can’t help but groan when she sees herself in the mirror, scrutinizing every little imperfection she finds. Her thighs aren’t skinny enough, her skin isn’t clear enough, her hair is too frizzy . . . she could go on.

Whatever it is, there always seems to be some part of our bodies to be dissatisfied with.  

And unfortunately, this dissatisfaction with appearance is all too common for teenagers. Their poor body image can lead to eating disorders, depression, and more. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 3% of all teenagers in the US struggle with an eating disorder of some kind.

How can we help our children learn to take care of their bodies while still having a healthy attitude about their physical appearance?

Healthy Bodies

We can help our kids learn to be healthy without obsessing over how much they weigh or how they look. Here are a couple of tips to help:

  • Stay active. Enjoy some fun family activities together! Help your kids find something they love to do, whether it’s soccer, swimming, hiking, or even just going for a walk. As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics puts it, “Children don’t need to work out; they need to play.”
  • Eat mindfully.** Perhaps just as important as what we eat is how we eat it. Slow down and take time to really appreciate the food you eat! Teach your kids to be aware of when they’re hungry and when they’re full. Research shows that eating mindfully can help people maintain a healthy weight, whether it be losing extra weight or treating eating disorders like binging and purging.
  • Focus on health. Overall, it’s important to remember to focus on health, not on weight.

     By doing this, we can help out kids develop healthy practices without having an unhealthy attitude about their bodies.

Healthy Attitudes

Perhaps just as important as physical health is having a healthy attitude about our bodies. This year, make a conscious decision to focus on health and not on weight. Here are some tips for teaching your kids:

  • Teach them there is no perfect body. Take time to talk with your kids about the “perfect body” they see in media, then help them realize that it isn’t realistic or healthy. You can also teach your kids that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Remember, healthy looks different for everyone!
  • Don’t obsess about appearance. Whether you’re talking about yourself, your kids, or someone else, don’t obsess about appearance. Avoid negative comments about weight or size. Make sure you compliment your children not just about how they look, but also about their efforts and character.
  • Model healthy attitudes. Your kids will learn a lot from your example. The way you talk about food, weight, and health influence how they think about it too! Check your own ideas about body image and then adjust them as needed.

Reimaging Body Image

With social media and cultural pressure to look a certain way, it can be easy for our kids to have a poor body image. But we as parents can help them to be physically healthy while having better views of themselves and their bodies.

As we shift the focus from weight to health, our kids can have healthier bodies and minds!

For more information:

*Abby is not a real person, but her experience represents that of many teenage girls.

**For more information on mindful eating, check out these tips from psychologist Christopher Willard.

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