Start ‘Em Young with Emily Lauren Dick
Written By: Emily Lauren Dick
Our body image is a reflection of how we think and feel about our bodies.
We develop these thoughts as we are exposed to society’s ideals and belief systems around beauty, health, and size. Body shame isn’t something that we’re born with. It’s something that is learned.
It’s hard not to hate your body when the world is constantly telling you that you need to fix yourself and fit into narrow standards that are constantly changing. Rather than wasting precious energy on finding ways to fit in, we need to focus on being the most authentic version of ourselves, regardless of what that looks like!
For some, it’s embracing all that we are born with, and for others, it’s changing our appearance to reflect how we feel on the inside. We cannot make progress if we continue to fixate on telling people, women especially, how to be. As parents and mentors to new generations, we need to be the change we want to see in the world.
Children as young as age three are experiencing body image issues, which tells us that there is no better time than now to teach self-acceptance and compassion for others. They need body positivity and resiliency to make it in this world.
Here are some steps you can take to start ‘em young.
1. Model the change
This may be the hardest step to take because you’ve likely struggled with your body image for so long. It’s not easy just to shut off the self-hatred, comparison, and judgment that you have for yourself, but if we have any hope of stopping this cycle, the change needs to start with you.
My go-to motto is “fake it until you make it.”
Start by NOT speaking negatively about your body in front of your kids! Even when you may be thinking negative thoughts, you can still make a conscious effort to not complain about your weight, body shape, or food restriction in front of them. When they see how hard you are on yourself, they will model the same behavior, believing that they are not good enough.
Children need to understand that you will love and accept them despite what they look like, and they should love themselves too. You can also miss out on so many great memories when you hate your body.
Show them that fun experiences take priority over how you look in a bathing suit or how many calories are in the ice cream. Teach them that food doesn’t have morality and that the world is full of diverse bodies (including your own)!
2. Make it not about bodies
It’s hard not to fixate on physical appearance because we’ve grown up thinking that this is what gives us value. The truth is, we have so much more to offer the world than the way we look.
We all change and grow older, and that’s okay!
Teach your kids to focus on the amazing things that our bodies do for us. They are our life vessels, vehicles, or tools for experiencing all that life offers.
Praise their bodies for doing their job! We breathe, move, and feel because of our bodies.
They should be celebrated, not hated. When giving compliments to your children, make sure you also focus on their non-physical achievements!
Kindness, compassion, intelligence, tenacity, and courage are characteristics with far more importance than a slim waist and beautiful face.
Please remind your children that their body is no one else’s business, the same way that other kids’ bodies are none of their business. At home, it’s great to talk about diversity and acknowledge the uniqueness of this world but remind them that appearance should hold no value. This aids in establishing good boundaries with friends and becoming an ally to children who are bullied because of the way they look.
Children need to know that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed about and that their value comes from within.
3. No shame or guilt
Children need to understand that it’s okay to be themselves in any shape or form.
This doesn’t just pertain to outer appearance, but also who they are inside. When they learn to hide who they are, their inner light dims when it should be shining so brightly.
Let them decide how to dress, wear their hair, and modify their body if that’s what they want.
Of course, they will be influenced by external factors like the media and friends, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t being themselves. We are a product of our environment, but we can also want to change beauty standards.
Someone who removes their body hair, for example, can still fight for a society where it is truly a person’s choice to keep it or not. A society in which there is no pressure to fit into any standard is the dream, but no one should ever feel guilty for fitting into current ideals or participating in the latest trends.
The important thing to remember here is that we are all so much more than our appearance, but that our appearance can also be a way to express how we feel or want to feel on the inside.
Emily Lauren Dick is a body image expert and activist who is committed to making girls feel comfortable in their own skin. Her book, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body, is the number one resource for young adult women who desire to redefine and understand true beauty. Emily believes that educating young people about body image, teaching resiliency, and normalizing real bodies is critical in combating negative thinking and improving self-esteem.
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