Body Positivity is a term used to describe having a healthy appreciation and understanding of all body types, including one’s own. When God created the world, he made us in his image and likeness. Our bodies are good (Genesis 1). Fostering body positivity in children can include things like building healthy habits related to food, exercise, dress, hygiene, modeling body positivity in ourselves, and most importantly, instilling in them a positive self-image. This is important for males and females.
While striving to have a positive body image is the goal, many individuals view their body in a negative light” or “view their body as damaged or bad.” This can sometimes lead to practices that are unhealthy. Young people can develop eating disorders where they restrict the amount of food they eat or binge large amounts of food and then purge them from their system. These practices not only impact the physical appearance of a person, but can cause internal body damage, impact someone psychologically, and create an unhealthy relationship with food. While it may stem from a desire to lose weight, it can also point to a more serious situation.
Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder where one hyper-focuses repeatedly on a perceived flaw or defect in their physical appearance. This may be minor or not even perceptible to others. As small as it may be, this condition makes people feel negative emotions such as anxiety, embarrassment, or shame. It can make them avoid public situations and even seek cosmetic fixes, such as surgery.
You can help your child cultivate body positivity by speaking to your child and about your child in a way that affirms that their body is good. Using proper anatomical terms when describing body parts and helping your child understand what their body parts are for lays a foundation for respect and care of the human body.
As your child gets older and starts to understand that their body looks different from other people’s, it is helpful to have open communication with them about what they notice. They may observe things like height differences, various hair colors, or how strong someone is for a specific task. Talk with them about what they see and avoid making them feel shame for being curious, asking questions, or noticing differences. Also, remind them that since we are all made in God’s image and likeness, that we show respect to others.
Another important practice for parents and caregivers is to avoid negative self-talk around children. While you may struggle with feeling body positive yourself, it is often not helpful to express that in front of your child. The behavior they see you model will often impact them more than anything else.
You can also help your child develop a habit of positive self-talk by inviting them to share positive things that happened to them in a given day or to share a daily affirmation about themselves (e.g., I am healthy. I am strong.)
This is also a great time to talk to your child about modesty, which is being suitable in dress, speech, and conduct. It is different than vanity. This is an important discussion whether you have a son or a daughter. Recognizing that their outfit selections can help garner confidence, help your child consider what their intentions are with their clothes. Are they wearing them because they feel confident and capable to be the best version of themselves or are they wearing them to gain attention from others or to simply fit in?
If your child is struggling with a negative self-image, talk with them about when they feel this way. Is it a certain time of day? Around certain people? In a certain place? This can help you determine ways your child combat their negative self-image. It also may not be a place they physically go. You may need to limit your child’s social media use or help them step away from it completely for a time if your child struggles with the images and perceptions they see online. Consider utilizing the expertise of a mental health professional to help your child. Throughout the process, continually affirm your child’s goodness and remind them of your love and presence—no matter what they are going through.
If your child is struggling with an eating disorder or experiencing body dysmorphia, continue to affirm your child’s dignity and worth. Recognizing that these are mental health conditions, have your child work with a mental health professional. Consider seeking professional guidance yourself to help you assist your child with these struggles. Know that treating either of these often takes time and relapse could happen. It is important to pray with and for your child, letting them know that you love them.
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