If I could go back in time and talk to the girl I was, the one who was talking about going on a diet at an absurdly young age, there are so many things I would say. I'm not sure who started talking about their body first, in my group of friends, but I know we all influenced each others' opinions of ourselves. It makes me wonder how my own kids' friends are teaching them to be less body positive.
Outside of family, a child's peers are the most influential when it comes to important aspects of their life, including body image. All the work we, as parents, do at home on body positivity can be completely undone when a kid has friends who consistently criticize or speak negatively about their own (or others') bodies.
As the stepmother of a teen girl, I had to ramp up my efforts considerably once I noticed my stepdaughter talking negatively about herself. I'm not sure how successful I was, given my limited influence, but it's made me become more vigilant with my two younger kids. My 5-year-old daughter, especially, is at the age when she may begin to be vulnerable to peer pressure. I hear her saying things like, "I want to wear these bows in my hair, because then I'll be pretty," and I wonder where it came from, because it certainly wasn't me.
In the end, I'm still not sure how much I can do to erase any negative impact my daughter's friends may have on her body image, but I'll keep telling her she doesn't need anything to make her more beautiful than she already is.
They Talk Negatively About Their Own Body
I think one of the most insidious ways kids learn to be ashamed of their bodies is by absorbing what they hear their friends saying. Kids aren’t born being judgmental (about themselves or others); they learn it, and I think the same goes for how they view their own bodies.
They Comment On Other Kids' Bodies
The more your kid hears their friends commenting on other kids’ bodies, the easier it will be for them to adopt that mindset as their own. Bodies are really just bodies, especially in the eyes of a child, until someone starts to add a commentary about them.
Plus, when your kid sees themselves or their own body, reflected in the body being commented on by others, they may adopt those negative associations as reasons to hate not just a particular body type, but their body type.
They Pressure Your Kid To Join In When They Make Fun Of Another Kid
Peer pressure begins at a far earlier age than us parents would like to believe, and I’m sorry to say it, but kids can be downright nasty when someone doesn’t “fit in.” The number of times my daughter has come home complaining about one of her friends trying to make her do things she doesn’t want to do, has me worried that being mean will be one of those things, if it isn’t already.
They Criticize Your Kid’s Outfits
My daughter has always had her likes and dislikes, when it comes to clothes, but it was last year, in pre-K, when she went from loving an outfit unreservedly, to hating it and refusing to wear it. I couldn’t understand why, until she finally admitted that she was afraid kids would laugh at her again.
They Comment On Your Kid’s Weight
I’m not exactly sure how often this happens to kids on the heavier end of the spectrum, these days, but my daughter, who has been at the bottom of the growth charts for her entire life, gets comments about how tiny she is all the time. So far, there hasn’t been any negatives that I can see, but time will tell. Regardless, the comments have taken her from just having a body, to having a “skinny” body, and that’s bound to come with some feelings.
They Talk About Needing To Work Out
Any time a kid hears that someone “needs” to do something, they wonder why. My daughter certainly asks the question out loud to me, whenever the opportunity arises. When it’s a peer talking about it, chances are pretty high that your kid will translate it into them needing to do the same thing.
They Talk About Needing To Gain/Lose Weight
Kids don’t think about their bodies being something that needs to be improved until they hear someone else talking about it. While you may be very self-aware at home, trying to keep any negative self-talk away from your kids, other parents might not be as diligent. Let’s face it, whether your child is listening to you complain about your weight, or whether they’re listening to their friend complaining about it, it will end up translating to them wondering what’s wrong with their own body.
They Compare Their Body To A Celebrity’s
This is related to the point I mentioned about hearing friends complain about their weight, because it involves your kid coming to the realization that they should be comparing their own bodies with someone else’s. Only this time, we’re talking about the near-unattainable perfection of celebrity bodies.
They Tell Your Kid They Don’t Have The Right Body Type To Play A Sport
What the hell does this even mean? I have friends with a son "on the small side for being successful at hockey," (again, whatever that means) but this kid happens to be so damn fast, he’s blowing the competition away. He’s having a fantastic time without having the "traditional hockey physique," and you know what? There are a million other kids who don’t have what our society has arbitrarily deemed the "right body type" for a sport, but are participating anyway. I mean, did you know that Usain Bolt doesn’t have the traditional body type of a successful sprinter? Good thing no one told him that.