The New Year season (and really any time of year) tends to be rife with direct and indirect negative messaging about bodies: how to stop eating certain foods, get rid of that holiday weight, and look like the thin/muscular celebrities and influencers you admire…
Kids easily pick up on all of that messaging, and it’s become yet another form of pressure to succeed for kids and adults alike. It’s no wonder that children from preschool age to the teenage years, and everywhere in between, are struggling with body image issues.
If you want to break out of the negative cycle of body shame, you’ll need to commit to it together as a family. Start off the new year growing actual healthy habits alongside your kids using these seven approaches, one for each day of the week.
Appreciate the amazing things your body can do
Rather than worrying about the amount of fat or muscle or hair you have on certain areas of your body (or your child’s), try to appreciate something else about your body. It’s not hard when you consider all of the body’s complicated systems and what you’re capable of every day.
Kids are naturally curious and will love to learn more about things like: how their bodies help them stay warm in cold weather (or cool in hot weather), what exactly happens to food and water after they swallow it, the many ways our bodies fight off germs, how bones grow, and how and why we breathe.
For inspiration, here are 25 weird facts about the human body. It’s pretty mind blowing stuff — even for adults!
Learn about the benefits of fat
While you’re in learning mode, try to bust any misconceptions you may have about fat. Fat gets a bad name, but your body absolutely needs it.
Your brain is made of 60 percent fat — and in fact, each and every cell in your body has an essential membrane that’s made of fat! Fats give you energy, they help you absorb vitamins and produce hormones, and they’re necessary for your growth and development.
Some of the best fats around are found in high concentrations in foods like olive oil, fish, avocado, peanuts, nuts, and seeds. Adding in more of those foods can be a positive way to think about nutrition — rather than focusing on restricting other types of food that your family likes to eat.
Spend more time in nature
Studies have found that spending time surrounded by natural “green” (wooded), “blue” (bodies of water), and “white” (snowy) environments boosts your bodily appreciation and positive body image.
As a bonus, all that time spent outdoors gives you natural breaks from the harmful body messages found frequently in advertising and media — and helps you boost mental health and bonding with kiddos.
Celebrate ALL bodies
Kids are curious about people who have different abilities than they do, and it’s best to have open, honest conversations about it — yes, even in public. This includes talking about invisible disabilities.
Whether you or your child has a disability or medical condition, or not, almost everyone has something that makes them feel physically different from the impossibly high beauty standards we often see in the media.
Appreciate the diversity of bodies all around you, with all of their different shapes and sizes, different amounts of body hair, different tones and markings, and different abilities. The picture book Bodies Are Cool can help you start some of those conversations.
Find new ways to talk about YOUR body
No matter what kind of “celebrating all bodies” discussions you have at home… If kids hear you criticize your own body frequently, they’ll eventually start doing it too. Model body positivity or even body neutrality by turning off those negative scripts or facial expressions and replacing them with more objective or upbeat ones.
If you have young kids, watch this “I Love the Shape of Me” music video by the author of The Body Book. It’ll help you roll new scripts (or tunes) in your head next time you’re thinking about your own appearance.
Keep exercise talk positive and fun
Rather than talking about working out to lose weight, burn fat, or fix something else that’s wrong with you, try to put a positive spin on exercise when you do talk about it.
Instead of the fixing/correcting mindset, try to focus on how physical activity makes you feel (mentally, emotionally, and physically) — as well as the more practical aspects of building your strength or energy levels. And especially when you’re with kids, make sure sports and exercise are, quite simply, fun!
Be intentional about media/toy consumption
Instead of becoming preoccupied about calorie consumption, strive for a balanced media diet. Intentionally seek out books, shows and movies that depict healthy body representation (that includes after-bedtime shows for adults too!). And look for dolls, video games, and other toys and games that promote a diversity of body types rather than an unrealistic ideal.
You can directly talk to your child about what kinds of bodies they see in various roles in the media. When you watch or play alongside kids, ask them questions such as “Do these bodies look like the people you see every day in your family or at school?” and “Why do you think the illustrator/creator made them look like this?”