How to Give Your Kids a Positive Body Image

Sacha Strebe

Being a kid is one of the best times in a person's life. You have the freedom to play all day, absolutely no concept of time, everyone is your friend (even if you just met them), everything is a game (or can be turned into one), and the world around you is a constant source of wonder and new discoveries. So it's incredibly disheartening as a mother of a seven-year-old boy to hear that children as young as five are starting to develop concerns about body image. 

According to a recent report by child advocacy group Common Sense Media "more than half of girls and one-third of boys as young as 6 to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size." Even more astounding is the statistic that "one in four kids have engaged in some kind of dieting behavior" by age 7. We are bombarded by imagery every day on our phones, on billboards, on television, and in magazines—most of it professionally edited—and it's giving our children unrealistic expectations about what a real body looks like. But is media completely to blame? Should we really be pointing fingers, or should we be making changes? 

France decided to take action, passing a law this year "that bans excessively thin fashion models and imposes fines and possible jail time on the agents and fashion houses who hire them." And many other European nations have followed suit. I feel parents have a responsibility to ensure their kids grow up with an awareness of how edited our world is: Everything is photoshopped, and "real" doesn't look like that. In a recent interview with photographer Sam Jones for Off Camera, supermodel Cindy Crawford said, "even kids on their Instagram are doing their own photoshopping, making their waist smaller, lifting things up, but in some ways, that's good, because they realize how manipulated photographs can be." But at the end of the day, she thinks it's "your responsibility as a parent" to ensure they know the difference. Scroll down for a few things you can do to encourage your kids to love their bodies.

Eat Well and Be Active

We all lead busy lives, and I completely understand the lack of time to squeeze in exercise, but being active doesn't mean you have to start doing sit-ups and crunches. It just means you should get outdoors with your kids. Encourage them to kick a ball around; go to the beach and play frisbee; take a family bike ride to the local park. Find games that you all love to do together and you won't even realize it's fitness, because you'll be too busy having fun.

Eating well doesn't entail radical changes to your life either, but there are plenty of great cookbooks and children's blogs that can help you discover new ways to include (or hide) vegetables in your children's food. Remember, leading by example is the best way to promote a healthy lifestyle to your kids. So if you love to eat well and exercise, your kids will want to join in, too.

Learn to Love Your Body, Too

If you're going to promote a positive body image to your children, once again, the best way is to lead by example. So if you still struggle as an adult with self-image, you need to help yourself first. Being proud of your body and confident in your own skin will naturally filter down to your kids. There are some great books to help you, too: We love The Body Image Workbook, which shows you how to "stop focusing on your perceived imperfections and start feeling more confident about the way you look." My son is always telling me how beautiful I am, because he sees the whole me—inside and out. It's up to me to believe it, and make sure he knows I believe it, too. 

Choose Realistic Role Models 

While there are still some celebrities and sports stars that can act as great role models for your kids, celebrities aren't always the most reliable role models. Try looking for more realistic idols who are in your close network of friends and family. There might be a family member, longtime friend, older cousin, or godparents that your children admire who can serve as role models. Talk it over together: Ask them who they look up to, because it might be someone you didn't expect. Then see if you can schedule time for them to spend together with you, too, or one on one. These new bonds will help them form their own sense of identity, and inspire confidence.

Make It Fun

Our bodies are incredible: They grow, change, and heal every day all on their own, without us having to do a thing. These are the kind of things we need to teach our children so they understand how magical our bodies are and what they are capable of doing. There are plenty of fun ways to show them, too. One way is through coloring. We love children's picture book Your Body Is Awesome, which is full of creative illustrations that encourage your children to love their bodies from an early age. When they learn about all the amazing things their bodies can do and how each body is different and unique, they'll be inspired to take care of their own. This kind of self-respect is not only a benefit to themselves, but will help prevent bullying and encourage kindness among others. Plus, reading colorful illustrations and coloring in is something kids and adults can enjoy together and have a lot of laughs at the same time. 

Be Aware of Your Language

When teaching your kids about body language, you need to have a heightened awareness of your verbal language, too. Think about how you talk about yourself. Do you often say how much you don't like a particular body part? Do you comment on how much you wish something was different about yourself? This rule also applies when you're discussing a celebrity's looks, or those of a work colleague or friend. Kids are like sponges; they soak up everything around them, so just being aware will help you to realize what you say, and how much it could be affecting them subconsciously. Seeta Pai, vice president of research for Common Sense Media and author of the "Children, Teens, Media and Body Image" report said it's also important to ban "fat talk" and "start talking to your kids early by "emphasizing health, not weight, and teaching appreciation for all shapes of people." 

What do you do with your children to encourage a positive body image? What can we do as a society to make sure our kids grow up loving their bodies and the skin they're in? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

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