Healthy Body Image: Make it a Family Affair
By Kaley Mialki, graduate student, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida
Reviewed by Karla Shelnutt, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Gail Kauwell, PhD, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida
Growing up is hard! As a child, I often wondered why I looked the way I did.There were certain parts of my body that I wished were different–for example, my forehead. I thought it was huge and wanted to hide it with bangs. Around this time, I also remember talking to my mom. Her encouraging words gave me self-confidence and helped me learn to respect my body. After all, in the grand scheme of things, how important is it to have a forehead that looks like everyone else’s?
Has your child ever asked you about the way he or she looks? Did you know how to respond? Body image is how we feel about our outward appearance. Questions about body image can be tough to answer. With obesity and eating disorders on the rise in youth, body image is more important now than ever. But how do you promote positive body image without doing more harm than good? By understanding why children feel the way they do about their bodies, you can help them respect their bodies and build self-esteem, just like my mom did!
There are many aspects of children’s bodies that can impact how they feel about themselves. Some of these are related to behavior and are things that we have some control over, like what we eat and the type and amount of exercise we do. But others, like height and the shape of one’s face, are beyond our control. Help your child understand what can be controlled. But more importantly, help him or her to learn that there’s more to a person than what is on the outside.
Follow these tips to help your child have a positive body image:
- Be your child’s best role model: Your child looks up to you for everything, including body image. Try to avoid obsessing over your own body.
- Discuss changes occurring in your child’s body: Help children understand that these changes are normal. They may look different than their friends, and that’s okay.
- Involve your kids in cooking: Let your kids help in the kitchen and learn about food. This can also be valuable family bonding time.
- Create a healthy relationship with food: Help your child learn to recognize hunger, enjoy meals, and understand fullness.
- Emphasize your child’s talents: Whether she is excellent at spelling or music, remind your child about her strengths and positive attributes.
- Know when it’s time to seek help: Sometimes problems with body dissatisfaction are beyond your control. Recognize when your child needs professional help and seek the services of a registered dietitian, nutritionist, therapist, or doctor.
While helping your child accept his or her body may take time, it’s always easier to make progress with family on your side. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll have your family singing one of Lady Gaga’s most famous songs: “I’m on the right track, baby– I was born this way!”
CDC. (2014). Adolescent and school health. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm.
National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.) Get the facts on eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.) What is body image? Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-body-image