How can I support my child (and myself) in being more body positive?

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How can I support my child (and myself) in being more body positive?

By Angela Youngs, Psy.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Supervised by Vicki Chiang, Psy.D. (PSY21136)

  • Model positive self talk. We’re all likely affected, in some way, by the messages of beauty standards. This can shape the way in which we talk about ourselves and engage with the world. At the same time, children are very receptive and always listening. They will likely notice you talking about wanting to lose weight or a new diet. It’s easy for children to internalize messages they’ve heard, especially if the message is coming from a person they look up to. Instead, try to model positive ways to talk and think about yourself. Talk to yourself the way you would want your daughter to talk to herself.
  • Compliment actions instead of appearance. Dr. Renee Engeln discourages compliments that draw attention to appearance. For instance, saying, “You are beautiful,” may actually have a negative impact. She states this type of intended compliment may place more emphasis and preoccupation on appearance, which can reinforce the idea that women must meet a certain beauty standard to be of value. Direct attention to attributes that matter more than appearance, such as being a hard worker, kind friend, or supportive sibling.
  • Focus on what our bodies can do instead of what they look like. For example, rather than discussing what our legs look like, focus on what our legs can do for us. Perhaps your legs can help you run around and play with your kids. Or your child’s legs may help to kick a soccer ball, spin and twirl during ballet class, or hold a yoga pose.
  • Be a savvy social media consumer. What type of social media accounts do you follow? Do they leave you feeling good about yourself or do you end up comparing yourself and feeling down? Adjusting your media consumption towards people and accounts that boost you up rather than bring you down can have a significant impact on being more body positive. If your children use social media, this can be an important conversation to have.
  • Use a positive mantra. A mantra could include aspects of yourself you like or a message you’d like to consistently give yourself – such as being strong and capable. You could create a decorative piece of art depicting the mantra and hang it in a visible location. Get creative, and encourage your family members to create their own!
  • Have fun! Have a dance party! Go for a bike ride! Read a book together! Listen to music! Relax on the couch with a favorite movie – resting is also a really great thing our bodies can do. Whatever you choose, point out how cool it is that our bodies can help us with these fun activities.
  • Maintain open, casual conversations. Talk with your kids openly about body image, body diversity, how bodies change during puberty, and the unhelpful messages we receive through media. By keeping the conversations casual and informative, you’re setting the right tone – and they’ll be more likely to come to you with questions or concerns.
  • Seek help. If the self-esteem or body image of someone in your family is significantly affecting their day-to-day functioning, it may be helpful to enlist outside support from a therapist or other mental health professional.
  • Talk to your boys. When we think of body image, we tend to focus on the girls. However, some boys also experience difficulty with feeling body positive. They may experience it differently than girls, but they also need support. These tips can also be applied to the boys in your life.