When is it OK to comment on people’s bodies? The short answer is never.
We all know as a child those years are the formative years of our lives where the relationships and patterns of behavior can set the stage for our success or the things that we will attempt to overcome in our adult life. helping your child establish positive body image and a healthy relationship with food is so important for your child development. The language we use around food and other people’s bodies matter. Setting an example in your home environment for how your child should view food and body image is pivotal. Commenting on a child’s body changes or appearance can promote insecurity. As an adult we may think it’s a compliment when we say “wow look at how big you’ve…” but a child may only hear the word big which in every other context regarding body in our society and social environments is seen as a negative thing.
We praise thinness commenting on people’s weight loss as if it couldn’t be an eating disorder or an illness or depression. By the same token we comment on the people in larger bodies as if it is a moral failure or as if it isn’t an eating disorder or an illness or depression at the same time. Focusing body comments on capability rather than appearance is a great place to start when cultivating a positive relationship with your child in their body. Tell your child how amazing it is that they can run so fast. Tell your child how amazing it is that their brain works so well that they got a great grade in math. Tell your child how amazing it is that they give such great hugs. Tell your child how amazing it is that their body can do so much for them. This upholds the idea that the way your child’s body looks is the least interesting thing about them. They are so much more than what their body looks like.
When cultivating a positive relationship with food a similar mindset must be adopted. We see so much stigmatizing around food about which foods are good and which foods are bad. When we adapt a intuitive eating approach and one that encompasses food freedom we give the child permission to choose what their body wants and teach them to listen to their body’s needs. Intuitive eating is just that- listening to your body and its needs and not denying your body from what it wants. The fear is that your child will want to eat 4 sleeves of Oreo cookies every day, but the reality is if they’re listening to their body their body will not always want that. Their body will pick the fruits and veggies too. Food freedom upholds this belief by eliminating value on food, all food is just that- food and fuel for our bodies to nourish us so that we can do what we need to do in our daily lives.
The national eating disorders association has great information on how to develop and model positive body image for children. They state “Fighting, drive for thinness, and body dissatisfaction are unhealthy actions and ideals that are often communicated to us and internalize from a young age”. When these ideals are internalized this is what can in turn cause such poor body image and self-confidence which can be detrimental to a child’s well-being and growth. The first step is changing your own thinking. Be critical about how you think about food, weight, body image, health, physical appearance, and exercise. Take time to look at your own attitudes, beliefs, and prejudices about food. Once you realize what you need to change try to implement these changes into your everyday life. If you’re someone who edits yourself before posting on social media, think about why you do it, how you feel when you do it, and what message you’re communicating to yourself and others when you do so. Looking at yourself critically and honestly about why you do certain things that you do is the first step to replacing unhealthy attitudes with healthy ones moving forward. In doing so you’ll be setting the ground for your child to be able to adapt these new healthy outlooks.
Overall, when it comes to mindful eating and healthy physical activity balance and moderation always wins over extreme measures. Extreme measures can oftentimes further solidify the negative unhealthy beliefs that we have about ourselves and our bodies. When it comes to food eating a balance of variety of foods is important as well as encouraging eating in response to hunger cues. Food freedom means allowing all foods in your home. Don’t resort to food as a reward or punishment, such behaviors set food up as a potential weapon for control. By the same token when we spoke earlier about not criticizing or commenting on your child’s body you must do the same about your own body to model that for your children as well. Self-criticism on your own appearance implies that appearance is more important than character and that there is always room to improve someone’s appearance rather than promoting and celebrating body positivity.
Here are some ways that you can model healthy attitudes for children and young people.
- Set a positive example of a healthy and balanced relationship with food
- Help children accept and enjoy their bodies and encourage physical activity
- Devote yourself to raising a non sex stereotype child by modeling and living gender equality: Practically this means thinking critically about how we view women’s bodies, people as they age, the glorification of youth, and a tightly controlled ideal body type come and avoid restricting children to gender specific activities allow them to experiment and experience to find things that they love and enjoy
- Build self-esteem
- Encourage children to talk openly and honestly and really listen to them
- Encourage critical thinking
- Develop a value system based on internal values: How to cultivate an environment where the importance of equating personal worth with things such as care and concern for others is higher than external values such as appearance
- Teach children about good relationships and how to deal with difficulties when they arise
- Be aware of some of the warning signs of eating disorders: Watch for: refusing typical family meals, skipping meals, comments about self and others like “I’m too fat; they’re too fat,” clothes shopping that becomes stressful, withdrawal from friends, irritability and depression, or any signs of extreme dieting, bingeing or purging.
National Eating Disorders Website
If you want to learn more about how to improve your child’s body image or relationship with food, want to improve your own, or find yourself wanting someone to talk with, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.