American culture values thinness highly — simply glancing at any kind of advertisement makes it plain. Movies, shows, and magazines all display thin and fit individuals, reinforcing the message that to be skinny is to be beautiful, successful, and worthy of attention.
This beauty standard may seem harmless, but it doesn’t come without a price. Year after year, rates of eating disorders rise in correlation with obesity rates. Clearly, the U.S. is struggling to create a culture that supports healthy ideals and positive relationships with our bodies.
It can be scary to raise a child in such a culture. If you’re a parent, you want your children to love themselves while maintaining healthy habits.
To help children grow strong and happy in their own skin, teach self-acceptance from an early age. Here are three body-positive parenting tips to get your family started on a journey of self-love:
1. Don’t Assign Moral Value to Weight
Too often, overweight people are considered to be inherently lazy, stupid, and unsuccessful in general. Our society views fatness as a sign of weakness or lack of control over individual habits. In reality, body weight is deeply related to factors often outside of an individual’s control, including socioeconomic status during childhood and family genetics.
Instead of equating “fat” with “bad,” speak to children about bodies in neutral terms. Talk about having a large stomach in the same matter-of-fact way you might discuss the fact that a person has two eyes or brown hair. By not assigning good or bad qualities to certain body traits, you can help teach children that size is not inherently linked to a person’s character.
2. Remember That Body Positivity Goes Beyond Weight
While discussing weight with children is important, remember to include other aspects of appearance in your body-positivity efforts. As a society, we attach perhaps too much value and emotion to looks; for example, 96% of people with acne report feeling depressed because of their acne, and 99.7% believe having healthy and attractive teeth when smiling is socially important.
Remind children that they should never judge or tease others for how they look. You can even lead by example by discussing what you love about your own body. Try saying things like “I love my eye wrinkles because it means I’ve laughed a lot,” or “I like my big nose because I know I got it from my grandpa.” By showing kids they can love their body for reasons other than conventional beauty standards, they’ll be better able to embrace their own quirks.
3. Encourage Habits for Health Purposes, Not Appearance-Based Motivations
Unfortunately, the body-positivity movement faces criticism from those who believe fat acceptance encourages unhealthy choices. Nothing could be further from the truth. Body positivity encourages a healthy relationship with one’s appearance, which includes self-acceptance as well as healthy eating and exercise habits.
Children can learn this concept from an early age if you give them the proper tools. Start by teaching them that exercise should be a form of personal enjoyment and self-care, not a method of improving one’s appearance. Try doing a sport or hobby together as a family– tennis, for example, is a fun way to get everyone moving in a non-contact sport, while also burning calories (about 169 calories for women and 208 for men, to be precise!). Discuss burning calories or gaining muscle in terms of health benefits, like greater strength or better heart health, and encourage kids to get moving in ways that they enjoy. Associating exercise with fun will keep your kiddos active well into adulthood.
Teaching body positivity in a thin-loving world is difficult. However, with intentionality, honesty, and love, you can show your children that there’s no wrong way to have a body. Your children might even go on to teach others to love themselves, too.