Like it or not, the body dissatisfaction industry is worth millions, if not billions, of pounds.
It’s almost inevitable that our children are going to be negatively affected at some stage of their youth. Especially with miracle diets, exercise fads and ‘before and after’ pictures spread across the front page of gossip magazines. The mainstream ideal of ‘perfection’ is as alluring as it is unobtainable.
Many of us are already struggling ourselves with some form of body anxiety. So how do we avoid passing these feelings onto our little ones and how do we start talking to children about body image?
How Can We Encourage Body Confidence?
Having body confidence is incredibly empowering, and yet often completely elusive.
As adults, many of us struggle to feel satisfaction, let alone find pleasure and pride in our appearance. But that’s not the attitude we want for our children.
There is more pressure than ever before on those growing up in the ‘information age’. Little ones as young as even three or four are now exposed to the idea of body dissatisfaction and societies’ obsession with perfection. This can be incredibly damaging if children are not guided by someone they trust.
And this, my dear parents, is where you come in.
As parents, we have a far greater influence on our children than we dare to imagine. Everyday, they learn how to behave through the actions we take – forming their own inner voices largely based on what we have led them to believe is true.
If we spend time chastising ourselves in front of the mirror, we are telling them that dissatisfaction with ourselves is valid. The same goes when embarking on a strict ‘dust-only’ diet. Calling yourself fat will only serve to perpetuate the myth of the media that the perfect figure is to be obtained at any cost.
If my parents have a negative body image, then perhaps I should too.
But there is a way to combat this.
This positivity can help act as an anchor as they grow. Especially when they’re inevitably tossed about in the tumultuous waves of peer pressure and celebrity culture.
Daunting, but Necessary
Opening a dialogue about body image and how your child feels about themselves can be daunting, but necessary. We are in a world where Kim Kardashian is likely to make more headlines than a global catastrophe. Having this conversation will help to guide the impressionable minds of our future.
Talking about the unrealistic portrayal of both men and women is a great place to start. Especially what is shown in the media and on social media.
The majority of glossy campaigns feature lithe, tanned women. And rippling, muscular men are completely staged and airbrushed. In fact, huge numbers of ‘real’ social media accounts are now too. Sharing this with our children will help them to understand the difference between reality and advertising. It might be useful to show them videos on YouTube that demonstrate how models are made up and airbrushed into unrealistic versions of themselves. This can shatter the illusion of perfection.
An important factor to consider is that boys are often overlooked when it comes to body image conversations. Ensuring they also have a safe place to explore how they feel is crucial for their well-being.
Regardless of gender, young children are very impressionable. So making time to discuss any issues they have will reinforce the notion that they can bring any worries to you. And that they can talk to you without fear of judgement or ridicule.
In your discussions, break down gender-based stereotypes. This can also help to shape their understanding of the world. Typically, society casts men as the strong, heroic archetypes. Women are shown as pretty damsels, for viewing pleasure only. This harmful characterisation affects how children grow, perceive and relate to one another. This increases pressure on both each other and themselves.
Watch Your Language
Help them understand that they don’t have to ‘fit in’ to a certain category simply because they’re male or female. If your daughter loves superheroes and climbing trees – fantastic, encourage it. If your son wants a little cuddle and a cry, be there for him. Expecting girls to be more ‘girly’ or telling sensitive boys to ‘man up’ may seem harmless. But it reinforces the message that they should conform to their specific set of gender-based ‘rules’.
Think carefully about the words you use and the message they send. This can avoid confining them to adhere to these unrealistic expectations. This can all help create a more well-rounded attitude towards body image.
Ultimately, there are two ways to influence your children’s body image. Indirectly through your own actions, and in open, honest conversations. There will be many outside influences that children will face. But having a safe, reliable source of love and support at home can help to foster a positive attitude towards health as a whole.