Reinforcing positive body image with our kids
Negative body image reached intensified levels, especially among young people, during the coronavirus lockdown. Leading mental health organisations Butterfly Foundation and ReachOut have experienced a spike in the number of young Aussies seeking help online when it comes to body image and eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has disrupted our exercise routines and how we’re able to move around. Our diet has also been impacted as we have more time to snack and try out new recipes to help keep ourselves occupied. Terminology such as “iso bod” or “lockdown body” has also emerged as well as a surge in weight loss programs for ‘post-lockdown’.
Teens are especially vulnerableThe uncertainty associated with living in a pandemic means every fear and anxiety has been heightened, including those about body image. Teens are especially vulnerable to becoming overly critical of their physical appearance, with extra time to ponder about thoughts like “Is my belly a bit softer?” and “Is my face getting rounder?”.
They’re also spending more time online which means constantly seeing posts of people with perfect bodies on social media, bragging about their workouts on Instagram Stories, posting "Thinspo" (or thin inspiration) content on TikTok, and memes like “I need to socially distance myself from the kitchen”. All of these things fuel insecurities and place attention on any perceived flaws about their body. It also sets unrealistic expectations and leaves them with an inaccurate image of themselves.
Encouraging a healthy body imageThere are some things you can do to help your kids develop a healthy body image.
Focusing on them as a whole personThis is about sending positive messages to your children that focus on what they can do and not what they look like. Compliment and let them know you’re proud of things like their sense of humour, special skills and talent, effort and achievements at school or other activities.
This will help them gain confidence and feel good about themselves, as well as reinforcing that looks are secondary.
Being a role modelYou can be a role model for your kids by having a positive attitude towards body image by valuing people no matter how they look, avoid commenting on someone’s appearance (including your children), and making sure everyone in your family knows that teasing about looks or weight is not an acceptable thing to do.
Negative body attitudes can sometimes pop up in comments and messages without us being aware of it. This might happen when we see a friend and tell them “You look great - have you lost weight?” or commenting on someone on TV “Oh, what happened to her - she looks terrible!”. These comments can add up and influence the way kids feel about their bodies.
Unfollow what’s not helpfulSocial media is filled with people who are projecting an unrealistic image of themselves. They are using editing apps, filters and touching up their selfies before uploading them, and you generally only ever get a glimpse of the positive aspects of what’s happening in their lives. This can significantly impact kids' body image and their self-esteem.
We have a part to play in educating young people about the realities of social media, and to avoid using other people’s appearance and accomplishments as a metric or standard. Try to encourage your kids to spend less time on their devices and to turn away when someone is bragging about something or posting things that make them feel worse about themselves.