How to talk about: Body image

The idea of talking to your kids about body image might feel as natural to you as flying to the moon. Yet, this is a conversation that you don’t want to miss. Not front footing this one with your kids leaves the door wide open for somebody else to do it for you and they won’t be nearly as invested in your child’s future as you are.

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This body image stuff isn’t just for girls. Boys are equally part of this discussion. Even as adults we have a pretty hard time swatting away the barrage of messages about how good we need to look to be loved.

A good friend of mine often reminds me that ‘kids are great observers but poor interpreters’. By this she means that our kids are awesome at inhaling advertising yet not so awesome at calling out the lies in some of the messages used to sell stuff. So if you glean just one thing from reading this article let it be that to nurture the healthy self-esteem of your kids, you are going to need to bravely step up and speak into the gap of helping them love the bodies they’re in.

Embrace your own relationship with your own body

It’s pretty simple, really. If our kids see us obsessing about our weight, our diet, how we look in our jeans, how we want to look in our jeans, we send them the message loud and clear that we are not enough. So instead of a long lecture about self-acceptance, just try saying something really positive about yourself next time you are standing in front of the mirror – and let your kids hear it.

Embrace your own relationship with food

Food is fuel. Our earth generously gives us this bounty of fuel that powers us through our days. Food is a gift for us to enjoy. So teach kids about the diversity of taste, balance, nutrition, energy and flavour. Show them how to enjoy food so that it becomes their friend and not their enemy. So instead of cursing the calories or gorging with guilt, let your kids see you thanking the earth, sky and the sea as you take great pleasure in savouring what sustains your body.

Embrace your relationship with other people’s bodies

It’s pretty darn easy to slide into the role of commentating on how others are, or are not, taking care of themselves. But stop it. Just stop it. Stop commenting on weight gain, weight loss, calories, what they are eating, what you are not eating. Zip. Nothing.

Instead of cussing the few kilos you would like to drop or gain, or even celebrating the few kilos your friend has dropped, turn instead to kind acceptance of kilos full stop. Put the scales in the bin and give yourself a warm hug and choose to value your (and their) relationship with their heart, health and wholeness.

Embrace your relationship with imperfect

Our economy needs us to be dissatisfied so that we keep on spending. From an economic point of view this makes good sense but from a mental health perspective, especially for our kids, this is troubling. How do we ever arrive at enough when the bar keeps moving?

Teaching our kids that there is an industry dedicated to optical illusions can help them navigate through the terrain between fantasy and reality. Throwing a floodlight on the myth of perfect opens up a path towards loveable imperfection which is a far broader and more life-giving track to do life on.

Embrace your relationship with technology

I can feel the contradiction even now as I check my Instagram feed between paragraphs while writing this. But when you look at the hours our kids clock up on their devices drinking in sumptuous screenshots of biceps, bums, boobs and bikinis, it’s little wonder that their mental health has taken a hiding over the last decade.

Embrace your relationship with language

When it comes to talking about body image with our kids, it’s really as much about what not to say as it is what to say. Our kids really do have a radar that picks up the nuances of our actions and our language and so paying special attention to what we are saying and how we are saying it really does matter. For example –

Instead of saying
I should not be eating this
I am off the carbs at the moment
I feel massive in these jeans
I feel fat in these jeans
I am watching my weight right now
I need to go on a diet
Try saying
I am treating myself today
I am making healthy choices
I am rocking this outfit
These jeans are not comfy
I am taking good care of myself
I’m going to look after this precious body

Kids are swimming in the idea that ‘you have to be beautiful to be loved’. Yet we, as parents, hold the keys to challenge that narrative and to truly define the meaning of beauty with a quiet whisper of truth into their young ears and hearts, over and over again with a message that says, “Your beauty is within. You are loved just as you are – imperfect and beautiful.”

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About Author

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. Jo is our Family, Relationships and Marriage coach at Parenting Place working with family, sibling and relational dynamics. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent, a partner, and the leader of our relationships and marriage programme. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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