BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change. The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.
Delicious nutrition and fun fitness are great goals because they give us energy to do all the things that we want to do. Whatever our age or size, we feel better when we take care of our bodies – and we take better care of the things that we love. Promoting positive image for children is one of the best ways to fight the effects of weight stigma on youth.
Body image is how we feel about our bodies. Whatever their size or weight, children can develop either a positive or negative view of their bodies. In our weight-obsessed society, body image disturbances can begin as early as preschool. Parents, teachers and other adult role models can play pivotal roles in promoting positive body image for children.
Young people with a positive image of themselves feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed. They don’t need to obsess about calories, food, or weight. They have the energy they need to enjoy physical activity. Kids with a negative body image feel more self-conscious, anxious and isolated. They are at greater risk for both eating disorders and excessive weight gain. Here are four ways you can help prevent these problems and give any child, any age, any weight, any shape the gift of positive body image:
Check out your own body image issues
Parental body image has a powerful influence on how kids feel about their bodies. If you spend time talking about your fat thighs, your latest diet or your punishing workouts, the children around you naturally absorb these negative messages. They will begin to worry about the size of their thighs and think they should be restricting food and working out.
Focus on health rather than weight
For your kid’s sake (and your own sanity), shift your focus from weight to health. Stop obsessing about numbers on the scale and concentrate on eating well and moving more. Children don’t need to work out; they need to play with family and friends. Children shouldn’t be counting calories or restricting their intake; they need to enjoy regular meals and learn how to make smart, tasty snack choices.
Find physical activities that fit
Feeling fit, strong and capable is one aspect of positive body image. Every child needs regular physical activities that they enjoy. Some kids are natural athletes and enjoy any sport they try. Other kids do better at individual activities, like walking or riding a bike. Some may find their niche in yoga, karate or a hip-hop dance class. It doesn’t matter what kids do for physical fitness; what matters is that they do something they enjoy.
Watch out for bullies – and the media
Weight-related teasing is a major basis for bullying. Encourage your school to address the issue and to support nutrition and physical education that promotes Health At Every Size (HAES®). If you believe your child (or any other child) is being bullied about their weight or for any reason, discuss your concerns directly with the school counselor or administrator. (Visit the BEDA Weight Stigma Toolkits for more information to help you with this conversation.)
Unfortunately, nearly every media channel in the world is filled with unrealistic body images for both males and females. Help your child become a savvy media ‘critic’ by talking about what they see on TV, in magazines and online. Teach them to be skeptical about the perfect (and digitally-altered) models in advertisements.
Here are some resources helping develop positive image in young people:
In recognition of her professional and volunteer leadership, Dayle Hayes has received numerous honors, including 2013 Montana School Food Service Professional of the Year and the 2012 Silver FAME Award as a Friend of Child Nutrition from the national School Nutrition Association. FoodService Director magazine named her as one of their “20 Most Influential” in April 2012.