5 Powerful Ways to Raise a Generation of Body Confident Kids
“To help a girl’s self-worth, don’t tell her she is beautiful. Teach her she is more than beautiful. Don’t just reassure her that her body looks great. Teach her that her body is great. When we stop giving beauty the power to make us, we take away its power to break us.”
- Lindsay Kite, PhD, Co-Founder of Beauty Redefined
Numbers don’t lie: Research has found that roughly 85-95% of women are unhappy with their bodies. An overwhelming number of these women will take drastic measures to change their bodies to fit an unrealistic mold that diet culture has held as “acceptable”. Sadly, this can equate to years lost to chronic dieting, disordered eating, or even a full-blown eating disorder.
How Poor Body Image Can Negatively Affect Your Life
Struggling with the mentality that your body is never quite good enough can lead to devastating consequences, such as:
Preoccupation with your body, such that it interferes with your ability to focus on more important matters, such as your kids, relationships or career
Spending an overwhelming amount of money, time, and energy on the next diet in effort to change your body
Over-exercising, feeling like you have to earn your food your food or punish yourself for eating something “unhealthy”
Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated about what to eat or like food is something chaotic and confusing, rather than enjoyable
Struggling with constant, self-critical thoughts about yourself, body and appearance
Avoiding social functions or activities you would normally enjoy
Difficulty being intimate with your spouse or partner due to shame and embarrassment about your body
Feeling uncomfortable in your own body and clothes to the point that it distracts you and takes up your mental space
The Impact of Poor Maternal Body Image on Children
The effects of poor body image are far-reaching, often impacting generations of children who are parented by mothers who believed the lie that they had to change their body in order to be worthy, love, and accepted.
How a mother feels about her own body directly impacts how her children will feel about their bodies, often creating a mirror effect.
One research study found that among 5 to 8 year-old children, those who believed their mothers were unhappy in their bodies were more likely to have poorer body image themselves. What does this mean? Plain and simple - if you’re not walking your talk, your kids will know and are more likely to pick up on your behaviors that signal you’re unhappy in your body, including negative self-talk, dieting and unhealthy eating behaviors.
So the vicious cycle can repeat to the next generation. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can be mothers who help our children break free from the lie perpetuated by a multi-billion dieting industry and who are raised to be confident in their bodies, no matter what anyone says.
Where do we start? How can we build a generation of children who are resilient to the destructive messages of a society that tells them their bodies will never be good enough? How can we ensure that any of our own body image struggles or insecurities are not passed on?
How to Raise a Generation of Body Confident Kids
Start With Healing Your Body Image
As mothers, we can only take our children as far as we have come ourselves. If you feel insecure in your own body or struggle with poor body image, it’s important that you take the time you need to heal. When you can live in your own body confidence and positivity, that will naturally exude to your own children.
Yes, this can seem like an overwhelming task - but you don’t have to do it alone. If you are struggling with poor body, connect with professional help.
A mother’s negative body image creates a ripple effect for her own children. Heal your own body image, and you are creating an unstoppable tsunami that brings down generational walls. You can turn the tide for your children by healing your own relationship with your body. It’s not enough to tell our children that they are beautiful no matter what.
Although they need to hear these messages too, what is impacting them the most is the relationship they see us have with our own bodies. If that is a toxic relationship, this is what our children are going to be more likely to model.
Recognize Your Children As More Than Their Appearances
As a society, we’ve become conditioned to praise people for their appearance, looks, and bodies. “Wow, you look great! Did you lose weight?”, or some version of this. In this environment, our children are learning that positive reinforcement or anything worthy of achievement stems from the way our bodies look.
Help your children learn that they are more than they way they look. Teach them how amazing their bodies are, regardless of how it looks. What personality qualities or character strengths do you admire?
To help our children become body confident, we must help them recognize that their worthiness is not attached to their appearance or looks whatsoever. That they deserve affection and love no matter their body size or shape. When kids can understand that their appearance is the least important thing about them, they are empowered to be who they were meant to be (not what anyone else thinks they should be).
Celebrate Body Diversity
Our society and dieting culture at large celebrates a beauty ideal that is far from attainable and realistic. Yet when these images that are curated to feed this ideal, our perception of what is normal suffers. The idea that thinner is better continues to be reinforced when all we see are images of thin people who are both glamorized and objectified.
If we want our children to break free from this tunnel vision view, we have to teach them that there is no bad way to have a body. We have to help them understand body diversity and to smash the stigmas associated with bigger body types. Celebrate the body diversity around you by elevating all body types, not just the one that our society says is acceptable.
Keep Your Language Neutral
The way we talk about ourselves and others matter. If we are degrading our own body or other people’s bodies, our children will internalize these messages and learn to scrutinize their own body in the same voice.
If you’re not at a place where you can speak positively about your own body, make it a goal to move the needle toward a neutral place. Excessive talk about weight or body image can bring these topics to the forefront of a child’s mind or make them hyper aware of their own body
Practice Intuitive Eating to Honor Your Body
A mom who models intuitive eating teaches her children the importance of trusting, honoring, and listening to their bodies. A mother who is not at war with food is demonstrating body kindness, to herself and to her children. A mother who can view food through a neutral lens and respond appropriately to her hunger and fullness cues and teach her children to do the same shows body respect.
The intuitive eating principles are in essence, a framework for honoring your body on a deeper level that goes beyond appearance. Intuitive eating is a groundwork for body respect, no matter what your size or shape. Being grounded in these principles and being able to teach your children to do the same gives them permission to be at home in their one and only body, to be respectful to it, and to cherish it with a lifelong commitment.
Most importantly, it starts with us, mama.
We need to be the change we want to see for our children. May we never forget that the boys and girls watching us today will be the men and women of tomorrow. May be inspire them to be brave, bold, and courageous in their one and only, beautiful bodies and lives. May we empower them to use their bodies as powerful instruments for change and not be limited by their appearances and body sizes. May we advocate for them to embrace diversity as something that makes us wholly ourselves rather than differences that divide us.
It all starts here and now, with us mama. Let’s do this together.