Wouldn’t it be great if all of our kids could walk into the world automatically assuming they’re beautiful and worthy, instead of having to unlearn lots of negative messages thrown their direction and spend so much of their lifetime trying make peace with themselves? Not only is that the dream, but that’s the goal of parents who are intentionally raising body positive kids. Having to unlearn so many negative messages yourself, it can be difficult to teach your kids to love themselves but, thankfully, there are little things you can do that will make your kid more body positive. Who knows, it could even help you continue to be body positive, too.
Body positive parenting is about helping our kids keep an essential understanding that they’re actually born with: the fact that all bodies are worthy, no matter what they look like or how they function. The types of body shaming and discrimination that are common in our society are not innate or inevitable. We are all taught, through what we see courtesy of the media, how we are treated, and how we witness other people treating themselves and others, that some bodies are better than others. That means it’s entirely possible to raise a new generation to think about bodies differently.
No, we don’t have to enroll our kids in a class or make them read lots of scholarly literature and research in order to help them become body positive. There are lots of little things we can do in our day-to-day life, that help our kids understand that all bodies are good bodies, including...
Choosing Books And Other Media That Reflect A Wide Range Of Body Types
No one is born holding specific ideas about what makes a “good” or “bad” body. Sadly, over the course of our lives, what we are repeatedly exposed to (and what we aren’t) shapes our perception of which kinds of bodies are worthy and which ones aren’t. Picking books and other media that feature people with a variety of body shapes, sizes, ages, colors, textures, and ability statuses, helps your kids to see lots of different kinds of people, and develop similar levels of familiarity with all of them.
Being "Picky" When It Comes To Media, In General
When choosing media, be careful to note how different kinds of people are represented, too. Are the older or larger characters fully developed or impactful or loved, or do they only appear as lonely people to be pitied, or as comic relief? Are people with disabilities shown living full lives, or are they objectified and turned into “inspiration porn” or used as opportunities for able-bodied people to learn a lesson? If body positivity is our goal, it’s important to make an effort to show our kids that people of all kinds can lead satisfying lives, not just that they simply exist.
Openly Questioning Negative Stereotypes About Certain Bodies
Even if we succeed in offering lots of positive examples of diverse body types, it will likely be impossible to avoid all instances of negative media tropes. So questioning them, aloud, when we see them is key. For instance, if you’re watching a show with your children and a plus-size character is the only one who never has a romantic interest or is always the butt of jokes, pull the old ‘wonder aloud' and say something like, “Huh. It’s strange that [said character] is being overlooked right now. They’re worthy of love, just like everyone else in the group.”
Questioning Body Shaming Aloud When You Witness It
Beyond commonly stereotyped media depictions of certain body types, more direct forms of body shaming are prevalent in the media and in our own lives. Interrupting the narratives kids pick up from those situations is important, too. So, the next time you’re in the checkout line with your kids and you see a tabloid with a cover message that shames a celebrity who has gained or lost “too much” weight, or criticizes how someone is aging, there's your opportunity to “wonder aloud” about why the publisher chose to say something negative about someone's body.
Teaching Kids What Shame Is
Body positivity is partially a response to body shaming, a common phenomenon in all aspects of our culture. No matter how well we end up creating a positive environment at home, our kids will observe shaming in many different forms outside of it. They need to be able to name and unpack what shame is, and what it means for a person to shame someone else in order to avoid internalizing negative messages about themselves and others. So when those moments come up, use the opportunity to define shame and model shame resilience.
Complimenting What Bodies Do Or Feel Like, Not Just What They Look Like
In moments where we might be tempted to just talk about how pretty or handsome someone looks, challenging ourselves to dig a little deeper could help our kids develop a more body positive outlook. For example, if we see a friend who has taken up a new sport, we might say they seem really strong and happy, instead of just saying that they “look great.”
Prioritizing How Clothes Feel And Function Alongside What They Look Like
When shopping and getting dressed, talk about feel and function too, instead of focusing solely on how clothing looks (or worse, seeking out the items that are most “flattering” or which “hide problem areas”). Model it when you’re planning outfits by saying things like, “Well, if we’re going to be outside in the sun all day Saturday, we’d better pick clothes that will be comfortable in the heat.” Ask kids if what they’re picking out will keep them comfortable or protected during their daily activities, rather than just paying attention to if they appear neat, clean, and cute.
Avoiding Shaming Ordinary Bodily Functions
Like the book says, everybody poops. We also pee, and sweat, and burp and fart and lots of other things. We don’t have to celebrate each and every bodily function, but we don’t have to treat them like they're big, shameful ordeals, either. In my house, diapers aren’t “stinky,” they’re full. We don’t comment on what the bathroom smells like after anyone uses it, or repeat dainty euphemisms about how “men sweat but women glow,” as though there’s something wrong with women sweating (or women and girls being physically active). Model and teach proper hygiene, saying “excuse me” where appropriate, and then just moving on. Taking the stigma out of bodies being bodies helps kids be positive about them and about taking care of them.
Speaking Positively About Our Own Bodies
We should never let our kids see us talking about ourselves in ways we’d be outraged to hear anyone speak about them. So attacking our own features or showing them how we try to hide ourselves should be a big negative. As hard as it can be, we should respond with open minds and positive language if they comment about our bodies. Easier said than done, especially when they’re poking at our loose skin or stretch marks or other features we may be sensitive about, but showing them that people they love have those things (and loves those things) helps them recognize that bodies can look lots of different ways and still be lovable and worthwhile.
Being Mindful Of How We Talk About Food And Exercise
If we want to raise body positive kids, we have to be aware of the way we talk about food and exercise. Instead of talking about eating things that are “good” vs “bad” or “healthy” vs “fattening," we should focus on what makes us feel our best. Same goes for exercise. Frame healthy movement as something we do to have fun and feel good, not something we do as a punishment or payment for eating.