Body positivity is one of those buzzwords that is all the rage on social media lately. The media loves it, the influencers love it and ordinary people love adding their #bodypositive or #bopo hashtags to their latest Instagram posts. But what does it really mean? And how do we promote body positivity with our kids?
Body positivity is the idea that all bodies are beautiful, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, or physical abilities. It’s learning to be comfortable in your own skin, no matter what the current fashion trends are saying is “in” this year. The body positive movement also works to address the unrealistic standards set by the beauty industry. This means making advertising more inclusive by showing models in a range of shapes, sizes, genders, and skin tones.
It starts at home
To most young children, bodies are just bodies. But as kids get older and their bodies start to change with puberty, fostering body positivity becomes more important than ever. Sometimes loving the skin you’re in feels like swimming upstream when you compare yourself to the heavily Photoshopped celebrities and influencers you see on Instagram or in the media, kids are exposed to this just as much as we are as adults. Talk to your kids about body diversity and why all bodies are beautiful and worthy of love. Help them realize that what they’re seeing on social media isn’t realistic.
And be kind to yourself, too. Kids are little sponges, so if they hear you say things like “I can’t have another cookie or I’ll get fat,” or “I look so fat in these jeans,” or make negative comments about yourself or how others look, they will soon learn to equate being overweight with something negative.
Encourage a positive relationship with exercise
Help them shift their mindset around movement and physical activity. Exercise should be something you do because you love your body. For older kids, instead of looking at exercise as something they need to do to lose weight, or as a “punishment” to “work off” those extra chips after dinner, focus on how good moving their body makes them feel. For younger kids, show them how strong and fast and healthy exercise will make them. Offer up different forms of physical activity; it can be organized sports like basketball or baseball, things like dance and gymnastics, or solo activities like roller skating, hiking, biking, or yoga. If they’re concerned about their size, show them that athletes come in all different shapes and sizes.
Develop a healthy relationship with food
Just like all bodies are beautiful, all foods are good. Sure, some foods will nourish you better than others, but all foods can have a place at the table. Mental Health America says, “Moving away from the binary of "good" or "bad" foods is an important tool in improving your children's relationship with food. These labels create anxiety around food and may lead to consequences including food restriction and feeling like a bad person because they've eaten a "bad" food.”
You can promote healthy eating by explaining that the calcium in broccoli can give them strong bones and teeth, and the protein in chicken will help build big strong muscles. And a cookie doesn’t have as much nutritional value, but it’s a sweet treat and sometimes we just need a little something sweet. You can also serve up some immunity-boosting foods to keep the kiddos feeling their best.
Good vibes only
Being body positive doesn’t mean loving everything about your body every second of the day, and that’s ok. As humans, we aren’t perfect and part of the body-positive movement is embracing those things that make us different and unique. Ask your kids what they like about themselves. Come up with a list together of the physical attributes that they like. Maybe they have a great smile or amazingly long lashes, or they are one of the strongest skaters on their hockey team. Then move on to the things that aren’t physical, like their kindness, their willingness to help anyone, or their sense of humor.
Most in the body-positive community agree that there’s nothing wrong with complimenting people on how they look, but you should always stay away from any weight-related compliments (“you’ve lost so much weight! You look so good!”) which continue to perpetuate the sentiment that weight equals worth.
It’s no secret that our culture is image-driven and everyone wants to look good and fit in, so it can be hard when you or your child feels like they look different. But hopefully, we can inspire a new generation of body-positive kids who see all bodies as equal and worthy.