There has been a lot of coverage about the detrimental effects of unrealistic images in the media on our young girls and boys. And while I agree wholeheartedly that more needs to be done to stop airbrushing and to provide warnings about false advertising, a lot of our children’s body image problems come from us – their parents.
Every time we complain about our own thighs, butts or tummies, they are listening and taking it all in. When we start a new “diet” they soak up the fact that weight loss diets are a necessary part of life. If we announce gleefully that we’ve lost a few kilos, they learn that losing weight is cause for celebration. If we don’t want our sons and daughters to have body image issues, it’s essential that we don’t complain about our own bodies and we don’t publicise the success of a quick fix diet. The sole focus has to be on leading a healthy lifestyle.
Not only is it important that we refrain from sharing our own hangups, we also need to curb any comments about their bodies. It goes without saying that we should never tell a child or an adolescent that they’re fat. But a lot of damage can also be done when we compliment them for being nice and slim. Telling a young girl that she is stunning, with a fabulous flat stomach and long legs sounds like it’s positive. But all that girl hears is that looks are everything. Remarking that your child is so lucky that he or she can eat as much as they want and not get fat teaches them that it doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you don’t put on weight.
Kids, like adults come in all shapes and sizes. Our job is to keep our children healthy and do our very best not to foster distorted body images by keeping our mouths shut.