How to Help Your Child Combat Negative Body Images

I love my chunky monkey. No I’m not changing the words to a Beastie Boys song, but you’re welcome if that’s now reverberating through your head.

No, it’s a term of endearment that I often use for my not yet verbal child.

And although she is a monkey under the Chinese zodiac, it mainly refers to the fact that she’s been above the 95th percentile for weight and height since she was a month old. She is NOT a small baby! She’s currently 18lbs 6 oz at 4 months old today. My back sure feels it and lugging the car seat around is giving me some serious mommy muscles!

Now, my husband and I are quite proud of our healthy little munchkin. Every doctor we’ve seen has beamed at her statistics. There are no failure to thrive issues here. She’s healthy and strong, and getting stronger each day.

Her father and I aren’t very dainty either. We are both thick with a few extra pounds. My husband’s thighs are like tree trunks and he kicks like a mule. He’s been in martial arts most of his life and is eager to get the munchkin started when the time comes.

But we both have body issues. I have personally struggled with obesity and low self esteem most of my adult life. Long story short, I learned only a few years ago that I have a thyroid autoimmune disorder. Soon after learning this I completely changed my eating lifestyle to help my body function better. No more gluten and dairy for me! Life without good pizza is indeed sad… but ultimately very worth it.

Within a year I lost a lot of weight and kept it off until getting pregnant. My body actually started learning how to function in a healthier way with my thyroid finally working better. I’m currently 20 pounds heavier than my lowest weight and I’m trying not to beat myself up over it. I made a human dammit!!! My body has a right to hold onto 20 pounds!! Despite these affirmations though it’s a constant struggle to see myself in a positive light.

Now I know I may be asking for a unicorn here but I want my daughter to be free of the burden of body shaming and self consciousness. I know a huge part of that is the way I talk about myself and how I talk with my daughter about her body, you know, once she can actually comprehend.

A friend on Facebook posted an article today that hit on this. It is on a study that focused on the relationship between a woman’s opinion and satisfaction with her body and her recollections of the comments that her mother would say about her body. The more negative comments remembered such as: “Do you REALLY need another piece of pie?” or “You’re never going to find a man if you don’t take care of yourself”, the lower a woman’s opinion of herself.

This is a challenge in our culture. There is such an overwhelming focus on “perfection ” and standards are unrealistic for your average size 16 girl. Yep, that’s the average, check it out for yourself.

Then cue the concerned family members and friends. “Are you SURE she’s not over weight?” You resist the urge to bitch slap the person and you instead diplomatically respond with, “No, she’s very healthy and it’s good for a baby to be bigger.” Ugh! These will be the people that WILL say the comments that make a young and impressionable mind question whether their body is acceptable or not.

So how do we safe guard our children’s sense of self? How do we be that beacon of reassurance and affirmation that children need as a base to wade through the muddy waters of this often cruel world. Well my dear mama, this starts with you! And what empowerment that should give!

Your child looks up to you. You are their role model, the moon and stars, their everything!! You have an insane amount of influence on the way they see themselves. The way you talk about yourself in particular will be a direct reflection of how your child will view themselves. This may take very little effort for some. For others it will involve therapy and a lot of purposeful changes to “fake it till you make it”. But just try to look at yourself through your child’s eyes. They don’t feel disgust or hate when they look at you. They see love and feel joy! They look at you and say (or think) “you’re so beautiful mommy” and not, “boy, you’re ugly!” And if they are saying the latter, well I think it’s time to bust out the Manners 101 textbooks to start schoolin’ that child.

Our second role is how we talk to our children, both in the comments we make and in the way we discuss body image. It’s very important to be mindful of the way we speak to our children. The names we use and the way in which we add a positive or negative connotation to the things said have great impact. “You look so thin in those jeans!” or “Oh, jeans getting a little tight around the middle huh?” Emphasizing the importance of looks by using these subtle (or not so subtle) messages plants the idea that they are not good enough as they are.

And don’t get me wrong, a compliment is wonderful, I call my child beautiful all the time. It’s the underlying tone of negative judgment if they aren’t a certain way that has the most impact.

A powerful tool in this fight against body shaming and self consciousness is changing the way we view our bodies. By reshaping the way we view our bodies, as amazing biological miracles for instance, we can see the positives within ourselves and take power away from the negative judgements around appearance.

In order to start seeing the miracles the human body is capable of, look no further than your little munchkin(s). Just look at all of the physical development your little one(s) have gone through so far! His or her ability to lift their head up, digest food, stand up on their own, play on the playground or create art… these are little miracles all in themselves!

As adults we can walk, run, and lift objects. Even those with physical limitations have many abilities their body can do. Our bodies are capable of many great things and if we are so focused on the way it “should” look, then we miss out on the wonders of what it can do.

Helping your child focus on their body’s abilities may be a huge weapon in your arsenal against self esteem issues later. So when your little one kicks the soccer ball hard or pulls up on the monkey bars, remember to tell them how strong they are and how cool it is that their body is capable of such great things!!

How have you attempted to instill a positive sense of self and body image in your children? Please comment with your thoughts and share your wisdom!

May your daily affirmations powerful and may God bless your journey!

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