What do you feel when you look in the mirror? Delight? Gratitude? Acceptance? Contentment? Or embarrassment, disappointment and shame?
Poor body image is an issue that many of us as adults struggle with. It doesn’t matter how many articles we read that tell us it’s what’s on the inside that counts; standing in front of a harshly-lit changing room mirror in Bluewater can make us feel depressed and disgruntled, as body image & how we view and see ourselves, can overwhelm us all at times.
Feeling badly about the way you look can have a devastating blow to your overall self-confidence, affecting multiple aspects of your life. Which is why it is important to re-frame the way you view, think and talk about your body. So, you can model positive, healthy, realistic ways of speaking, and acting for your kids.
Being a teenager is fraught with being self-conscious, yet in this digital age where image is everything teenagers are under a lot of pressure to be ‘perfect.’ A survey by the ‘Be Real Campaign’ suggested that schools could do more to combat this unrealistic expectation of what it is to have a perfect body. But I also think you as parents have an important role to play.
I believe you can play a huge role in ‘talking and teaching’ your children to love their bodies from an early age.
I always ask the parents that I work with to notice how they talk about their own bodies, as they are consciously and unconsciously passing on their attitude and values around having a happy, relaxed body image to their kids.
Of course, we all have lumps and bumps and bits we don’t like about ourselves but if we as parents are constantly over critical of our own bodies in front of the mirror, and talk about our bodies in consistently negative ways, we are teaching our children to be self-critical and never satisfied with their bodies, as children and young people are constantly learning from us.
There are far more influences on young people today, than even 10 years ago, TV, billboards, magazines and social media mean that we all see images of ‘beautiful people’ hundreds of times a day – more often than we see members of our own families so ‘talking and teaching’ and helping your kids have a healthy and relaxed attitude to their bodies is a really important part of their self-confidence and ability to love themselves unconditionally throughout their lives.
During adolescence & the teenage years, young people often think a great deal more about how their bodies look. They also compare their bodies with others. A positive teenage body image is an important part of healthy self-esteem, so it’s important to help your child think and feel positively about his or her body.
• You are the most influential role model in your child’s life, so lead by example.
• Give your child opportunities to appreciate their body for what it can do, rather than what it looks like.
• If you are at all concerned about your child’s body image, self-esteem or eating behaviours, consult with your doctor or dietitian for information and referral.
What is body image?
Body image is how and what your child thinks and feels about their body. It includes the picture of their body that they hold in their mind, which might or might not match their body’s actual shape or size.
A positive, or healthy body image, is when your child feels happy and satisfied with their body size, height and stature as well as being comfortable with and accepting the way they look.
A negative, or unhealthy body image, is when they feel unhappy with the way they look and kids who feel like this often want to change their body size or shape and use very critical internal and external voices when they speak about themselves.
Of course, as adults we know that body image can change throughout a lifetime, and that it is strongly connected to self-esteem and healthy lifestyle choices because when a person feels good about their body, they’re more likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.
A healthy body image in childhood can lay the foundations for good physical and mental health later in life. An unhealthy body image in childhood can have long-lasting consequences.
Boys, girls, young men and women can all be affected by body image issues, but in different ways. For example, teenage girls who don’t like their bodies often want to lose weight and be thinner, whilst teenage boys want to lose weight, be taller or have more muscles.
Your child’s body image
Your child’s body image is influenced by many factors including your family environment, the attitudes of their friends & peers, the media and advertising, the fashion industry and also their cultural background. In recent years, social media has played a huge role in a teenager’s attitude to their body image, particularly when teenagers post ‘selfies’ and view photos of themselves and others on social media. They often obsess and spend ages filtering the image before posting, such are their insecurities. The pressure has grown enormously on teenagers to look ‘perfect’ & bullying and unkind remarks can devastate a fragile teen’s self-confidence.
As your child reaches puberty, fitting in and looking the same as other people becomes even more important. At the same time, your child’s body is going through lots of changes, inside and out. This often means that your teen might feel more pressure to look and act a certain way.
Negative teenage body image: risk factors
Teens, particularly teenage girls, are more likely than others to feel unhappy about their bodies, from advertising to TV programmes, from videogames to magazines, from songs’ lyrics to music videos, the emphasis is relentlessly on showing off a good-looking and sexy outer shell, when there is so much more in every girl to be nurtured and cherished, so girls might be more at risk of developing an unhealthy body image if they:
• consistently look at themselves from the ‘outside’ and worry about how others see them.
• if they compare themselves to others.
• feel pressure from family, peers or media to fit into a narrow idea of beauty and attractiveness
• if family members, siblings, peers or friends tease them about the way they look.
• have a different body shape or weight from many of their peers.
• have a body shape that’s obviously different from the ‘ideal’ shapes seen in the media.
• are perfectionists.
• have low self-esteem or experience symptoms of depression.
• belong to a friendship, sport or dance group that emphasises a certain body type over another.
• have physical disabilities.
The ffects of unhealthy teenage body image
Unhealthy teenage body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which can lead to negative moods and mood swings, & are risk factors for the possible development of dangerous weight loss strategies, eating disorders and mental health disorders like depression.
Young people who are feeling down & fed up are more likely to focus on the negative messages around them and will make negative comparisons between their bodies and what they see as ‘ideal’ bodies. They may focus too heavily on the external factors of themselves rather than their inner worth.
Teenage body image concerns: signs to watch out for
It’s perfectly normal for your teen to become more body conscious as they enter into adolescence as so much is changing, but when young people focus too much on their bodies, it can lead to over anxiousness, stress, low self-esteem and pressure to conform to an ideal image that only exists in films or on the catwalk.
So as parents, start conversations about how photos and images are photoshopped, airbrushed & altered in magazines, on billboards and on posters, discuss what healthy eating and healthy bodies look like and chat about the pressure & effect people like Kim Kardashian and X Factor Judges have on society, particularly girls, to look a certain way, ‘Talk & Teach’ and pass on your values and beliefs around a healthy way to look.
Be mindful, observe and listen out for signs that your child might be feeling
• inadequate about their body that they may perceive as ‘imperfect’
• or may have begun criticising their body unduly
• or may start saying they feel ugly constantly
• or may continually compare their body with others
• or may not want to leave the house because of the way they look
• or won’t try new things because of the way they feel about their body
• or they have begun obsessing about losing weight, or about specific parts of their body, like their face, legs, arms, bust or bum that they don’t like
• or they frequently keep checking their body, spend huge amounts of time looking at themselves in the mirror or begin taking photos looking for changes or imperfections
• or they begin linking food with feelings of guilt, shame or blame.
Developing a healthy body image: how you can help your child
• Talking about body image and explain about the physical changes that come with puberty.
You can help by listening to how your child is feeling about his body and its changes – active listening skills can build openness and show your child that you’re really taking notice of what he’s saying.
If your child isn’t talking or opening up to you, she might like to talk with another trusted adult. She could also:
It’s important to let everyone in your family know that teasing about appearance is not OK. Teasing can have a negative influence on body image and can also lead to children bullying peers at school.
Teasing about weight – including starting rumours, cyberbullying and sharing unflattering photos – has a negative effect on body image too. You could talk to your child’s school to see whether they’ve included this kind of teasing in their anti-bullying policies.
Speak to a GP or other health professional if you’re concerned about the way your child feels about his body.
Being a positive body role model
If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about her body. A positive attitude includes:
making healthy eating and physical activity part of your everyday family life, and avoiding fad diets – this will help your child find the right balance
appreciating your own body for what it can do, not just how it looks
being proud of things in yourself that aren’t related to appearance, like having a sense of humour, trying hard, being caring or being helpful – you can point out these qualities in yourself and your child accepting and valuing people no matter how they look, and not commenting on how people look.
Sometimes unhelpful body attitudes can show up in subtle comments and messages without us really being aware of it. For example, we might see a friend and say something like, ‘You look great – you’ve lost so much weight!’. It can be helpful to think about how comments like these add up over time and influence the way children feel about their bodies.
Watch out for dieting for weight loss. All crash diets are dangerous. They frequently lead to unhealthy eating patterns and can increase the likelihood of people becoming obese.
If your child wants to make lifestyle changes, make sure it’s for healthy reasons. Let your child know that healthy eating and physical activity aren’t just for weight loss – they’re vital for physical health, now and in the future.
If your child is overweight or obese, approaching this issue can be difficult. But making negative comments about your child’s weight is unlikely to help with eating and activity patterns and will result in poor body image and low self-esteem.
Focusing on what’s important
This is about praising your child for who he is and what he can do, not just for his appearance. In reality, everyone has a different body shape, and different cultures value people with different shapes.
You can also send your child positive messages about herself by focusing on her body’s abilities, rather than the way her body looks.
The most important positives in your child’s life aren’t related to his size or shape, so you can let your child know how proud you are of things like his sense of humour, effort at school, helpfulness or other special skills. You can also help your child spend time on interests and activities that make him feel good.
Body image for young people with special needs
Developing a healthy body image can be harder for young people with special needs, especially if their bodies are physically disabled or cause them pain and difficulty. Your child might also feel left out of discussions about body image because people with her particular body type aren’t often seen or talked about in the media.
Not everyone gets a ‘standard’ strong and healthy body. You can talk about healthy body image with your child and emphasise that it includes all types of bodies, even ones that don’t fit the popular ideal.
None of them, I repeat, none of them, involve taking a mirror selfie in a bikini.
1.Avoid offending media. …
2.Consciously seek out media that reinforces positive self-image. …
3.Restrict hanging out in shopping centres
4.Avoid conversations about appearance. …
5.Touch your body gently. …
Find a purpose.
People who have purpose are too busy getting stuff done to worry about how they look. In the end, creative expression, passionate parenting, effective leadership and growing the best-goddamn-tomatoes-in-the-neighborhood is far more satisfying than making sure you look good in an outfit at all times.
My final word on the matter is that positive self-image is a habit, not an attribute.
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