Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

How to talk about: Body image

Body image 2

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.

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

Kids are great observers but poor interpreters.

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 absorbing advertising, yet not so awesome at calling out the lies and exaggerations 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.

Celebrate the wonder that is the human body – including your own!

The best chance we have at steering our kids towards a healthy body image is to model it in our own lives. Our kids need to see us walk the talk for the message to really hit home. If they see us obsessing about our diet, our skincare regime or the fit of our jeans, then our ‘Honey, you’re perfect just the way you are’ will likely fall on deaf ears. 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.

If they see us obsessing about our diet, our skincare regime or the fit of our jeans, then our ‘Honey, you’re perfect just the way you are’ will likely fall on deaf ears.

We also need to take care around how we talk about other people’s bodies. It’s pretty easy to slide into the role of commentating on how others are, or aren’t, taking care of themselves. But that’s not helpful on any level. We can shift the culture in our homes by stopping any comments on weight gain, weight loss, calories, what other people are eating, what you are not eating… Zip. Nothing. No comment.

Rather than counting 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.

Healthy body image thrives when we celebrate what our amazing bodies can do. It suffers terribly when the focus is instead on what our bodies look like.

Be thankful for 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. 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 the 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.

Take care 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.

Watch your 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 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

These jeans are not comfy

I am taking good care of myself

I’m going to look after this precious body

Your beauty is within. You are loved just as you are – imperfect and beautiful.

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.”

Jo Batts

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent and a partner. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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