We are constantly bombarded with photos of airbrushed models, Snapchat filters that make everyone look like they've had cosmetic surgery, and other images of unattainable perfection. This is especially troubling for kids who are still forming their ideas about self esteem, physical appearance, and health.
Recent studies have shown that children as young as three years old have begun to display body image problems, including a dissatisfaction with their appearance or desire to lose weight. Instead of enjoying the carefree innocence of childhood, many kids these days are fixated on how they look, comparing themselves to celebrities, models, and other unrealistic ideals.
As parents, it's our responsibility to help our kids navigate the tricky landscape of body image with their self esteem and perspective intact. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to kids and body image:
Educate Them About Photoshop
Once a child is old enough to become fascinated with photos of models and celebrities they are old enough to know about Photoshop. When your child admires an especially unrealistic photo, point out that photo editing makes hair shinier, eyes brighter, teeth whiter, etc., and that no one really looks like that in real life. Discourage the excessive use of Instagram or Snapchat filters and photo editing apps, both from your kids and from yourself. If your child thinks they are "supposed" to look like overly filtered version of themselves, they may no longer be satisfied with the natural way they look in the mirror.
Be Aware of Your Own Body Image
Kids are little sponges, soaking up both the deliberate and unconscious messages you send them. If your children notice you obsessing over your weight and making critical statements about your own appearance, they will internalize this attitude. For your own sake and the sake of your children, make an effort to improve your own body image issues and self esteem.
Instead of critiquing your appearance in the mirror mention how strong you feel, how much energy you have when you eat plenty of nutritious food, and how good your body feels when you exercise. If you have deep-seated issues surrounding food or your weight, you may want to enlist the help of a licensed therapist.
Focus Less on Looks
Your child will be bombarded with superficial messages from pop culture, friends, and society at large. You can't avoid this but you can help counteract it by arming your children with less looks-based and superficial values at home. Constantly mentioning your child's looks (even in a positive way) signals to them that looks are what matter. Shift the focus to more important matters by complimenting them for being hard workers, being kindhearted, having a good sense of humor, and being helpful. Let compliments about their appearance be the extra frosting on the cupcake- nice to have but not necessary.
Encourage Your Kids to Love Food
Body image issues are often tied to weight and can lead to children feeling guilty about eating. You can help prevent this by encouraging a love of food from a young age. Expose your children to all sorts of flavors and textures, and make trying new foods an exciting experience you share as a family. Involve your children in meal preparation and let them make suggestions about ingredients and meals. Instead of seeing food as something to feel ashamed about, teach your children that food is fun and also provides the fuel they need for their bodies to do amazing things.
Body image can be a tricky area of parenting to deal with, but it's better to take a proactive approach. How have you been tackling this delicate issue in your own family? Please let us know in the comments.
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