As parents, part of our job is to instill positive values in our children. Teaching them to be nice, good humans is not easy and mistakes are inevitable. And while it might seem obvious to teach things like, “Don’t hit people” or “Be nice to everyone,” teaching kids not to fat-shame may not be as simple. Because while telling a child, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all” might be good in theory, it’s hard to reinforce that message when you’re inadvertently fat-shaming yourself and others — not to mention the very intentional and oppressive fat-shaming that happens on a societal level.
But, like everything, instilling good values about bodies begins at home. The way you talk about fatness and fat people in your home matters. The images you show of people in your home matter. Children are sponges; they listen and absorb everything you say and do, even when you’re not looking. And so part of teaching your kids not to fat-shame involves ensuring that you don’t fat shame, either. It also means responding when you hear other people fat-shaming. There are very simple, intentional choices you can make to help teach your child how to be body positive.
1. Teach Them That All Bodies Are Good Bodies
No body can do everything, but every body can do something. And regardless of what a body can or cannot do, that body is good. Try saying positive things about everyone. Have books and media that depict many bodies in a positive light, to try to counteract the harmful images they will see everywhere else.
2. Mythbust Stereotypes About Fatness and Fat People
There’s so much misinformation about fatness in our culture, and setting the record straight can go a long way. Teach your child that weight has nothing to do with health and talk about why mainstream beauty standards exist, how they’re created, and why they’re damaging BS.
3. Don’t Make Disparaging Comments About Your Body In Front of Them
Your kids are watching you and learning from you. When they see you hating your own body, they’re more likely to hate theirs, too. Not shaming people starts with not shaming yourself. In fact, try saying nice things about your body when you look in the mirror. It may even help you feel better about yourself as a result.
4. Acknowledge People’s Differences Without Judgement
It’s OK to call someone “fat,” as long as it’s being used as a descriptor and not as an insult. If your child points out that someone is fat (or thin or tall or short), you can state that observation as true without implying judgment about it. It can just be what it is — a neutral statement.
5. Don’t Talk About Your Diet
Diet talk can be toxic (and triggering.) People diet because they don’t like their bodies the way they are and want to lose weight. Kids internalize these unhealthy messages about food and bodies and reproduce them in their own lives.
6. Don’t Disparage Other People’s Bodies
Even if you think your kid can’t hear you, they’re always listening. And even if they’re not, it’s a good practice. Not saying critical things about other people’s bodies teaches your kids that that is unacceptable behavior. And, of course, bringing someone else down is no way to build yourself up.