There is no avoiding the harsh reality that we live in an extremely image-focused society where most of our role models are expected to not only achieve great things, but be the image of perfection to boot. The detrimental effect of this emphasis on body image is widely documented in relation to teenagers and adults, but what about young children? Exposure to negative attitudes about body image, whether from the media or within the home can have a serious effect on a child’s attitude towards themselves.
What is Body Image? Basically, it’s the way you feel about your own body. Children who have a healthy body image will feel good about their bodies, will be happy with how they look, how their body moves and grows, and what their body can do. What’s more having a healthy body image can help kids feel more confident and can boost their self-esteem. Of course, this takes time. Babies and toddlers are naturally happy with their bodies as they discover what it can do – be tickled, walk, make noises and such. Growing children build up good feeling about their body. They grow tall, they can run fast, they can do a cartwheel – and they can feel a sense of pride when this is noticed by a grown-up or peer.
Of course, body image changes when kids go through puberty. It gets shaped by what others say and the way they feel about their body can alter too. As puberty doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone, it can take them time to get used to a changing body that looks and feels different. Some kids develop early and may feel awkward or shy at first. Or, some may feel proud to look more mature and excited to look like an older kid.
Body image is part of a child’s whole self-image and parents can do things to help support a child’s healthy body image. Here are a few quick tips to ensure your household promotes a healthy stance on body image.
Firstly always try to be a good role model. Children learn by example and if mummy is complaining about her squidgy bits and getting caught up in fad diets then your child may also find she begins to scrutinise her body in a negative way. Compliments are easy, free and make everybody feel good (including the person dishing them out!) create a compliment culture in your household and regularly praise other members of your family, not only focusing on looks but personality traits and skills. This will soon become second nature and strengthen your relationships as well as boosting your child’s self-esteem.
Look to the media for positive role models with all kids of appearances, praise public figures with for their unique attributes and encourage your child to see the beauty in everyone’s differences. Of course confidence comes from the inside, but if what you’re putting inside you isn’t great, it shows on the outside. Healthy eating and exercise are as important for a happy mind as they are a fit, healthy body so make sure your child is getting enough vitamins and minerals from a varied diet and get those health-boosting endorphins flowing with active pursuits.
Put simply, to help kids build a healthy body image, parents can:
- Teach them about their body, how it works and how to take care of it
- Say positive things about how they look and teach them the importance of hygiene and grooming
- Encourage kids show to you what they can do – run, skate, cycle and show them you’re proud
- Be active with your kids – encourage them to be as active as they can.
For very young children there are plenty of picture books available (see our list below) which promote messages of high self esteem and positive body image, try Positive Body Image for Kids: A Strengths-Based Curriculum (for Children Aged 7-11) by Ruth MacConville or, the classic Dr Suess’ ode to dreams and determination Oh, The Places You’ll Go.
>> 10 of the Best Children’s Books on Body Image and Body Positivity
6. Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders and illustrated by Carol Rossetti – this books introduces the language of self-love and self-care to help build resilience, while representing and celebrating diverse bodies, encouraging you to appreciate your uniqueness. Ideal for ages 8-12yrs
7. I Don’t Want Curly Hair! by Laura Ellen Anderson – a glorious picture book and hilarious tale for little people about loving what we have. And, about hair, lots and lots of hair. Ideal for ages 0-5yrs
8. You’re Perfect the Way You Are! by Richard Nelson and illustrated by Evgenia Dolotovskaia – a simple story on loving yourself and respecting others and reinforcing a positive mindset that encourages young children to grow up with a healthier self-esteem. Ideal for ages 2-8yrs
9. Me and My Amazing Body by Joan Sweeney – a lively, easy-to-read, and easy-to-use introduction to anatomy that allows even the youngest readers to discover just how amazing their bodies really are! Ideal for ages 5-8yrs
10. Abigail the Whale by Davide Cali & Sonja Bougaeva – Abigail can see that she is larger than the other girls. She feels huge, heavy, and out of place – read as Abigail’s swimming teacher takes her aside and points out: we can change how we see ourselves! Ideal for ages 5-8yrs