How will you help your child through the gauntlet of body-focused messages, and towards a more hopeful future? Here are 3 ways you can help your daughter start cultivating a positive body image.
BY: CARA HARBSTREET, MS, RD, LD
Body image concerns are rampant among young girls. And if your child is expressing body image distress, don’t ignore it.
Puberty is often an extremely difficult period for most young girls in terms of body image. It often comes along with weight gain, and occurs during a time in a child’s life that is filled with comparison and bullying.
In order to address these body image concerns, it’s important to show your daughter that you respect body diversity and challenge the messages she will undoubtedly bring home that regards fat bodies as a ‘bad’ thing.
A major factor in how it will play out relates to you and your own body image.
The fact is, children are like sponges. And if they see you hating your body, it won’t matter what you tell them about their bodies. They will mimic what they see, and if they see body hatred, that is what they will inherit.
Here’s what you can do to start helping your child through their body challenges.
1. Interrogate your own body image.
If you’re struggling with your own body image, it’s important to address that first. Setting a good example is one of the most important things that you can do for your daughter, as well as looking back at your own experiences to identify what you can help her through.
Think back to your younger years, and recall what it was like with your parents and your relationship with food or your body. And while this won’t be the case for everyone, many people recall childhood experiences with their parents more so than what they physically looked like. Memories are often centered around traditions, vacations, and spending time together – help your child stay focused on that instead.
2. Show resources that celebrate all bodies.
Fill your home and your life with body-positive resources that celebrate all kinds of body shapes and sizes.
One great resource, especially for young girls going through puberty, is the book Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor. This book will help provide your daughter with information about what is going on with her body in a way that also doesn’t engage in language that will shame her changing body. Complete with current, accessible medical information, it offers a fresh take on puberty that will leave girls feeling informed, empowered, and ready for the changes that lie ahead.
It’s also important to keep track of where your daughter is hearing potentially harmful messages. Social media, news outlets, and digital publications can all be great resources, but they can also be something that breeds comparisons and intensifies feelings of inadequacy. If you notice your daughter spending increasing amounts of time in front of screens, consider offering alternatives for entertainment or examples of body-positive, weight-neutral, or non-diet accounts to engage with.
3. Be a voice for your child at the doctor’s office.
Doctors are often regarded as authority figures who are always 100% correct about the health of their patients. Unfortunately, even doctors are fallible. Trust your gut if you feel your child’s doctor is doing more harm than good. Remember that you have every right to get a new doctor for your daughter who will honor her body.
The next time you head to the doctor for your daughter’s annual check-up, be prepared to address any harmful commentary. This may mean requesting that your daughter not be weighed at the doctor’s office, or having helpful phrases to respond and advocate for weight-inclusive care when the doctor engages with your daughter about her weight or health habits.
As a parent, you will do all you can to prevent your daughter from experiencing any harm. While you can’t prevent your children from being exposed to fatphobia and weight stigma, you can do your best to reinforce the values that will support them in developing a positive relationship with her body.
Encourage your daughter to think critically about the messages she is receiving, and to question when someone tells her she must look or conform to a certain ideal. Not only will this help her to build up a strong sense of self that will protect her from diet culture, but it will prepare her for the moments in her life when you aren’t there to guide her.
Adapted from the original post.
HEADER IMAGE: WINNIE BRUCE
Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD is a Kansas City-based Registered Dietitian helping individuals jumpstart their journey to wellness. By breaking the cycle of dieting, Cara focuses on creating sustainable lifestyle changes for people who are motivated to reclaim their health. Connect with Cara over at Street Smart Nutrition.