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Children as young as 3 have body image issues

Children as young as 3 have body image issues

Children as young as 3 have body image issues
Can we teach a healthy body image to our kids? Absolutely yes - once we help ourselves first!
Now, I don't live under a warm furry well-insulated rock so I know that what I'm suggesting is far easier said than done. Plus I'm a normal woman living in Western society. So yes, feeling good about our own bodies can be challenging - now more than ever. 
Thank you internet. 
BUT it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to body image, promise. There are two main things we can use to help kids with their body image. They are to do our best to understand what they see, and the context in which they see it. 
What do they see..
They see us. Where we go, how we feel, what we do, what we say and how we say it - even, or maybe especially, to ourselves. 
The context can be described as "you parent(s) are my world, nothing else exists other than us and nothing existed before me". just one typical hour..?
If we take a moment to think about an average morning in a child's world in Ireland - what do they see and hear?
  • Adults in bed looking disheveled and sleepy (and maybe annoyed at being jumped on)...not an issue there! That's normal and how we are supposed to look - all good so far.. 
  • Adults washing and dressing - how do the adults treat their own bodies? Do they hide bits? What facial expressions do they make in the mirror? Do they complain about their wrinkles, teeth, hair? Do they suck in their tummies and frown? Do they sigh as they pinch their waists or thighs? 
  • Adults eating breakfast - but DO they eat breakfast? What are they eating? Are they sitting comfortably? Are they gulping food down? Are they giving out to themselves for being 'pigs' or for using too much butter? Or are they enjoying nourishing their bodies? 
  • Adults reading, or checking social media while eating - what are they looking at? Is it changing their mood? Have they now started to say critical things about others? Are they in a worse mood now than they were before they went online? (Chances are yes - feel free to contact me for references to psychological research that looks at this very topic! #dumpthosemags  
  • Leaving the house and getting to wherever, maybe stopping at a shop along the way - what reading material and ads are at (child) eye level in your local shop. Are they (I like to call them 'anti') women's mags and tabloids? Headlines about cellulite and pictures of bikinis and photo-shopped bodies - usually, but not exclusively female? Do the adults pick one up and buy one? Do the adults buy a snack in this shop? What is it? If it's something sweet is it called a 'treat' and is there a guilt or some other judgement attached to it? Is it fruit? Is fruit ever called a treat?      
  • Back on the road - do the adults make any comments about pedestrians' appearance?  Or about cyclists' attire? Do they mock other drivers based on their appearance? Do they comment on other parents when they reach the school or summer camp?  
And that could be just the first hour of the day. In just one hour we can teach a child to be critical, intolerant, judgemental of themselves and other people. We can teach that appearance is more important to us than strength, health, kindness, integrity, acceptance and understanding. We don't do any of this on purpose, but we teach it as easily and as successfully as we teach kids to speak English. 
Guilt Alert!!
This is not a valid reason to beat yourself up by the way so please no, don't do that. We're all being taught to hate our bodies to one degree or another - but I think that perhaps we don't really realise that. 
So here's the Good News - we could teach them the opposite!
Every hour with them presents us with an opportunity to change what they see AND the context! Here's how:
  • We can all be aware of how often we verbalise judgements of ourselves and others based on appearance.  
  • We can say kind things about ourselves and others.
  • We can be more aware of, challenge and limit children's exposure to media that focuses on selling 'beauty'. Making us feel bad ourselves is big, big business. There are even games that normalise cosmetic surgery! Teach your kids to be aware of this. It can even be fun! Play spot-the-photoshop, challenge what ads say, ask if the lady might be cold in that bikini... advertising can be hilariously illogical! Call it out and teach them to do the same.
  • We can show our kids that we are comfortable in and with our own bodies, no matter what we're wearing. Children will notice and learn. 
  • We can be healthy role models by making healthy food choices, exercising, resting. Encourage healthy food choices by having healthy food and snacks available and by calling them 'food'. When we treat our bodies with respect eventually our kids will fall in and follow suit. 
This will be very challenging for some, I know. But the pay-off is worth it I reckon. 

And – if and when your kids are ready to talk about their fears or concerns about how they look – be ready to be you - open, honest and full of your gorgeous unconditional love for them. They'll feel that, as we all do! :)

Thanks for reading - good luck, have fun, and see you next month!
Written by
Sally O’Reilly is the Family Psychology Expert at Family Friendly HQ. She's a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ full time experience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site or on Twitter @psychosal or FB  at Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.