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Modeling healthy body image

September 24, 2021 / in Children, Wellness / by Alissa Briggs, PhD, and Mitch Duross, MPH, RD, LD, CSCS

Children can develop an unhealthy body image at a young age due to an environment promoting dieting and thinness. It’s important to be mindful of how your conversations and behaviors may support or undermine the development of a healthy body image in children and teenagers.

Body image is defined as how one sees themselves and feels about their body. A child or adolescent with a healthy, positive body image will:

  • Be satisfied with the way they look.
  • Feel confident in what their body can do.
  • Feel comfortable with the way their body moves.
  • Feel comfortable in their clothes.
  • Recognize that their appearance says little about their character and values.

A child or adolescent with a negative body image will:

  • Have a distorted perception of how they look.
  • Link their self-worth with how they appear.
  • Feel uncomfortable or awkward in their skin and clothes.

Having a negative body image is one of the best-known contributors to eating disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, so it’s extremely important to model a body positive attitude and avoid comments that are critical of our own bodies and others.

How to model body positivity:

  • Say what you like about yourself and how you look.
  • Engage in activities that celebrate what you and your child can do with their body.
  • Praise process. When you notice your child or adolescent working hard towards a goal, label and praise that hard work.
  • Discuss family and personal values and how you and your child/adolescent is working towards them.

Comments to avoid:

  • Discussion of weight loss goals.
  • The word “fat” in reference to oneself or others.
  • Negative comments about body shape or size.
  • Discussion of calories burned or consumed.

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