Ever since I was a kid, I’ve struggled with my body image. I’ve looked at my completely “normal” body and said, “That’s too big.” My reactions and feelings worsened when I became a teenager and young adult who wanted to “fix” her body and fit beauty standards, not realizing how unattainable they are. As a result, I struggled with disordered eating for years, which left me feeling exhausted, out of control, and unhappy. It was a world I never want to return to.
While I still struggle some now, I follow a lot of body-positive influencers on social media who help me realize that attractiveness and health come at many sizes.
Inspiration from the mom crowd
Some of these influencers are moms who struggled themselves and are working hard to create a healthier and happier life for their children. The messages they share are so inspiring and helpful. I wish I had the representation and affirmations they discuss when I was growing up. I can’t help but think that having a body-positive role model earlier in life would’ve helped me have a better relationship with my body now.
I’m not alone in those experiences. According to a study, kids as young as 3 years old struggle with body confidence issues, and kids as young as 4 years old know weight loss strategies.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think kids — let alone kids that young — should focus on weight loss. But kids take in and believe what they hear, especially from the adults in their lives. And when what they hear is “I’m fat and I need to lose weight,” they’ll probably look for similar “problems” in themselves.
According to a Cleveland Clinic article, adults can build their body image by engaging in skills like positive self-talk, posting affirmations around their house, committing to joyful practices, not letting the mirror “beat” them, and avoiding comparison.
And I’m working at that.
I focus on how thankful I am that my body lets me attend dance classes and go meet up with friends. I have body-positive affirmations posted in my bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. I focus on what makes me happy and doesn’t have to do with my body, like watching Netflix, reading in the bathtub, and spending time with loved ones.
I center on parts of my body I like, and I remind myself that bodies can be beautiful at different sizes.
While these kinds of activities are helpful for improving your own relationship with body image, encouraging the same in kids looks a little different.
Stop transferring your struggle to your kids.
According to Dara Chadwick, parents can promote body positivity by saying something positive about themselves in front of their child, not making fun of people’s bodies, not complimenting weight loss around their child, not refusing to do something because they think they won’t look “good,” and not looking in every mirror they pass.
Behaviors and statements like these raise kids in an environment that teaches them people are more than their bodies and appearance, among many other important lessons.
When kids know body positivity, they know their worth is in who they are, not what they look like. They practice acceptance, healthy behaviors, and self-love. Body positivity also decreases bullying, lessens the chance of people engaging in unhealthy weight-changing behaviors, and encourages positive self-image. It can also help prevent deadly eating disorders and other mental health challenges. While the term “body positivity” sounds a bit flowery, it can have serious effects.
So the next time I’m tempted to skip a meal because I don’t like the way I look, I’m going to remember that even if I don’t like my body today, that’s okay and remember that I can be a role model to those around me.