When it comes to raising a body positive child, well, good friggin' luck. Look, I'd love to be a glass-half-full kinda gal, but I'm not going to tease you with false hope. Countless people and outside entities are going to try to get your kid to hate themselves. It's you against the world and I hope you're stocked up on whiskey and craft chocolate, because this is not going to be easy. So what can a parent do in the face of such adversity? Ultimately it will be the little things that make a child love their body.
In the vast majority of cases, body hatred has to be learned and ingrained in a person. I would be willing to bet all my money (literally tens of dollars here, people) that if you could build a machine that could read a baby's thoughts, 1) it would be an awesome invention that would make millions and, 2) no baby that was hooked up to such a machine would ever be recorded thinking, "I hate my thighs soooooooooo much." Negative body image is taught early, but it is not intrinsic, no matter what some questionable evolutionary psychology theories might say on issues of beauty or human desires. (Seriously, evolutionary psychology, you're not useless but you've got to get your shit together.)
Combating harmful influences that negatively impact our children's self-esteem takes conscious, dedicated effort. Fortunately, these efforts don't always have to be grand gestures and elaborate schemes. To the contrary, they'll most often be the small but heroic acts that fly in the face of body negativity.
Put On A Bathing Suit
In some cases this is a literal statement, but mostly it's a metaphor for not letting insecurity (not being "fit" enough, not being good enough, not looking cool enough) keep you from being active with your kids. When there's a pool, don't worry if you "still have 15 pounds to lose" or that you feel like the other women there look better than you do. Just put on your bathing suit and get in the pool! Your child isn't going to remember that you weren't at your college weight, they're going to remember the fun time they had with mommy swimming and how moments like that sparked a love of being in the water and how swimming is something their body can do that they love.
Compliment Their Strength, Speed, Abilities, And Character More Than Their Appearance
I don't think I know too many people who wouldn't, if give the choice, choose to be attractive. However, attractive is just one of so many awesome things a person can be physically. Praise children for what they are capable of. Encourage them to take pride in their accomplishments in order to instill an appreciation and respect for what their bodies can do.
Don't Get Wrapped Up In Anyone Else's Body, Either
Because you can praise your kids' bodies and accomplishments and give them amazing encouragement all day long, but if you turn around and criticize someone else (and yes, that includes celebrities, strangers, and yourself) you're still sending the message that there's a particular way bodies should be and deviation from that standard is cause for shame.
Make Physical Activity A Family Activity
Establishing the idea that physical activity is fun activity does a bunch of things. For starters, it creates some family bonding time, which is good for overall self-esteem. Secondly, it instills the idea that physical activity is a part of their every day lives, which is just downright healthy and while physical fitness isn't the final word on happiness or self-esteem it can be a really positive factor. When a child can associate the things they can do with their bodies with fun and family togetherness, they are more likely to have a positive view of that body.
Have Diversity In Your Media And Toys At Home
It's important to know that not all bodies are alike, and that's cool! Unfortunately, diversity in media is still, despite improvements over time, very much a work in progress. If we can show kids objects of love and affection and role models who look like them and don't look like them, they can appreciate that beauty, intelligence, and ability can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and that neither attractiveness nor virtue is limited to one type of person. The more we can show our children that everyone is unique, the more they will be able to love what makes them unique.
Don't Get Hung Up On Gender Roles Or Presentation
When you tell children (even when you don't mean to) that there's one way to be one of two genders, they're going to try to conform to those concepts and they will always, always fail. While there are some very big, sweeping generalizations, the specifics vary from person to person, so one will always fall at the mercy of someone else's particular peccadillos and preferences. Instead, try to keep things gender neutral when you can and stay open-minded, always.
Don't Imply Or Model The Idea That Having A Particular Type Of Body Excludes Someone From Doing Anything
You don't have to "look athletic" to be athletic and especially not to try athletic things. You don't have to look like a model to dress like a model. If a kid doesn't feel as though their body limits them from trying or doing things they enjoy, they are more likely to feel positively about that body.
Never Discuss Make Up As A Requirement
Make-up is fun, not a uniform. No child should grow up under the assumption that one needs to "put their face on" before they leave the house or apologize for not wearing mascara. There's nothing about a face in its natural state that requires improvement. It's hard to love a body if you're brought up thinking that a part of your body needs to be covered, augmented, or disguised every day.
Don't Talk About Bodies All That Much At All
Honestly, when it comes to body image, less is more. So many other people are talking about what a body should or should not be that if you don't make a big deal about it, you will be an important voice highlighting, "Actually, this really isn't the most important aspect of who you are or what you're doing on this planet."
But When You Do, Be Sure To Point Out That The Human Body Is In And Of Itself Awe Inspiring
A body can be aesthetically pleasing, but it's also capable of truly incredible things that many of us never even think about. Seriously, your pulmonary system alone is cause for awe and celebration. Talk to your kids about the myriad intricate, seemingly impossible wonders that occur throughout their bodies with every heartbeat. I mean, really: what's not to love when you think about it like that?