by Kathryn Robideau, RN, Public Health Nurse
Many things affect how children feel about their bodies. Some may affect one child more than another. Some we can control, others we cannot.
Body image is your attitude toward your body. It is the mental picture of how you see yourself when you look in the mirror. It is how you feel about the way you look, and how you think others see you.
Having a healthy body image means
– Accepting the way you look without trying to change your body
-Valuing the way you look, by seeing your body’s good qualities and strengths
-Resisting the pressure to have the “perfect” body you see in the media, online, and in society
-Feeling comfortable and confident in your body
Having a negative body image means
-Always trying to change your body to match an ideal image
-Feeling ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body
-Feeling uncomfortable and awkward in your body
-Being convinced that only other people are attractive
Why do we develop these feelings about our bodies?
Here are the 7 most influential factors in your child’s body image development:
1 – Age
Thoughts and feelings about our bodies start in childhood. Poor body image often starts to appear in late childhood and early adolescence. But poor body image can affect people of all ages.
2 – Gender
Teenage girls are more at risk for having poor body image than boys the same age. However more and more boys are now also having body image issues.
3 – Body size
Children and teens who are or who believe they are at a higher weight are more at risk for poor body image.
4 – Society and culture
Children who get teased about their looks, weight or body shape are more likely to have poor body image.
Society’s views that being a man means being strong can also cause boys to want to be more muscular.
5 – Beauty/fashion industry
Images in beauty, fashion, diet and exercise ads show “perfect” bodies. These images add to a child’s mental image of the ideal body.
6 – Media
Words and images on the internet, social media, TV, radio and in video games affect how we think and act. Children will compare themselves to these images and form their identity based, in part, on them.
7 – Family and friends
Children who feel their parents judge them on their looks and body are more likely to have poor body image. If children feel their family approves of their looks and body, it helps them to have a positive body image.
How parents feel about their own bodies can also affect their child’s body image. If family members or friends talk about ways to gain or lose weight, or make fun of others about their looks, this can lead to a poor body image for the child.
Model positive body image. When you are active, eat well and feel good about yourself, your child likely will, too.
Improve your own body image.
-Remember that health and looks are two different things.
-Realize that a certain body size or shape will not bring you happiness or fulfillment.
-Value yourself based on who you are, not what you look like. Appreciate yourself for your character, strengths, achievements, and talents
-List strengths, talents and other qualities that you love about yourself.
-Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself and who support you.
-Focus on healthy eating, being active, and feeling good about yourself.
-Choose a physical activity you enjoy. You are more likely to do it often if you like it. Do it for the joy of it, not to lose weight.
-Wear clothes that express your personal style and that are comfortable to you.
-Carry yourself with confidence and pride in knowing who you are.
-Do something positive every day.
-Find beauty in yourself and in others.
Pay attention to your child’s media viewing
-Avoid TV commercials whenever possible, by recording and skipping past them; or watching shows with no advertising.
-Pick magazines that show healthy, realistic kids and teens and participating in the activities they enjoy.
-Sit with your children while they read or watch media. Teach them that airbrushing, makeup and surgery make models look a certain way, and that in real life these models often look different.
-Teach children to think about media messages and ask questions about why certain things are supposed to be attractive.
-Be aware of what you are watching, reading and/or playing when your child is around.
-Keep TVs, computers and video games in a common area and not in the bedrooms. This lets you see what your kids are looking at and decide if it is healthy.
Encourage your child to be active for fun. When we exercise to have fun and not to change our appearance, we learn to appreciate what our bodies can do, instead of focusing on how they look.
Help your child to value abilities in different areas of life. Show your child that there is more to life than physical appearance. Talk about the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and social qualities that you value. Some examples might be doing good for others, showing patience with a sibling, being a good friend, or learning a new skill like cooking or martial arts.
-Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, cheo.on.ca/en/eating_disorder_info
-Hopewell eating disorder support centre, hopewell.ca
-National Eating Disorder Information Centre, nedic.ca
-Parents’ Lifelines of Eastern Ontario, pleo.on.ca.
Speak with a Public Health Nurse. Call 613-PARENTS (TTY: 613 580-9656)
Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on our Facebook page
Visit with a Public Health Nurse at one of the Parenting in Ottawa Drop-ins