Body Image – Does our body shape, size and appearance define who we are as people? Does it reflect our success? Is it a measure of our worthiness?
Unfortunately, studies have shown that children as young as five say they don’t like their bodies. By the age of 7, 1 in 4 children have engaged in some form of dieting behaviour and children as young as 3 and 4, learn that society judges people by how they look.
So, what is body image and how can we as parents help support our children in embracing a positive relationship with their bodies?
Body image is defined by how we see, think and feel about our body, and the relationship we have with it. It encompasses the picture we have in our mind about our body, the feelings (and the evaluation of these feelings) that we have about this picture, and how we tie our self-worth to our body shape and size.
A positive body image is one where we are accepting of ourselves as individuals. Where we:
- Value health over weight
- Value our body for its strength and ability, and for all the things it enables us to do
- Value ourselves for things outside of our appearance – our talents, gifts, endeavours, abilities, our desire to make a difference in the world and the values we hold.
So much of what we do as parents is through role modelling. Research shows that children aged 5-8 are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their bodies, if they believe their mothers are dissatisfied with their own. There are many things we can do as parents to help support a positive body image within our children. These include:
Start with yourself
- Be aware of the thoughts, feelings and attitudes you may have about your own body, leftover from your own upbringing, and get some support around this for yourself.
- If you obsess about and denigrate your own body, voice what you don’t like about your appearance, work out excessively at the gym or deny yourself certain foods – your children will pick up on this.
- Avoid weighing yourself in front of your children. A weight is just a number, not a sole indicator of health – there is no value attached to that number.
- Talk about bodies in a natural way.
- Don’t place negative attributes to body size or shape. All body shapes and sizes are of equal value and importance.
- Model good self care behaviours – show in actions how you respect your body.
- Identify and articulate the values you hold as a family around the way you talk about each other and about your bodies.
This post is written by Anna Young B.Nursing, GradDipNursing (Mental Health), M.Counselling, a Nurse Counsellor in Brisbane and mother of 2 kids.