/ 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. And since many New Year’s resolutions involve food, weight, diet, physical appearance or exercise, 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.
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Kid’s Health
- PBS, Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family