Healthy body image in children is something parents strive to achieve but it may be getting harder as children and adults are bombarded on a daily basis with improper messages about the body ideal. It is important to note that over time the body ideal has changed which makes it almost impossible to keep up with the prescribed norms. 

For example, the body type of Marilyn Monroe would be considered fat by today’s standards.  Shortly after that time period there was a new body type that was valued and it represented a very thin woman who was called “Twiggy”.

healthy body image in childrenNeedless to say it becomes increasingly clear how difficult it is to have healthy body image in children when the messages keep changing and kids are forced to conform to societal prescriptions.

As children enter into young adolescence and are extremely impressionable, this is the time when the messages about healthy body image are being absorbed.  Young girls begin looking at fashion magazines and they interpret the images they see. 

Sadly there is only one type of image that is represented and that is the image of an unrealistically thin woman.  That ideal represents about 5% of American women and excludes 95% of American women, yet that is the ideal that is strived for in young girls irrespective that it is nearly unattainable.

It is a daunting task to encourage healthy body image in children when faced with these images and messages on a daily basis. However daunting it may be, it is possible to encourage healthy body image in children.

As parents it is of the utmost of importance to understand your own feelings about your body as this can lead to placing feelings and undue pressure on your child. For example, if you are overly concerned with how you look and continually talk of your appearance or dissatisfaction, it will quickly become clear that your child will begin to suffer the same dissatisfaction. 

Encouraging healthy body image in children must start in the home.  If positive messages are given then the outside messages become less important and are not internalized. If children constantly hear their parents say, ‘I feel fat,’ then there is a high probability that the child will internalize this and begin using the same statements to describe their feelings.  This certainly discourages healthy body image in children.

One of the easiest ways to inspire healthy body image in children is to give the message that there is pride in what their bodies can do rather than what their bodies look like.  For example, if your child is athletic and enjoys playing sports, then this is the area to focus on to show how their body performs well in their given sport.

What better way to have healthy body image in children as they glide across a sports field feeling proud of their athletic prowess? These children do far better in filtering out the negative body image messages that are given and rely on their internal feelings of pride. 

One very difficult thing to understand is that healthy body image in children is not tied to actual size.  Studies have shown that children and adults of all sizes can feel good about their bodies and have healthy body image.  What often gets in the way of this is the societal messages telling children that if they don’t look the prescribed way then there is something wrong with them.

Healthy body image in children is crucial to develop because if not it can lead to depression, eating disorders and anxiety.

There is another idea that gets in the way of healthy body image in children and that is that only girls suffer from poor body image.  This has also been a changing dynamic as more and more boys are forced to look a certain way.  The ideal between boys and girls may be different in terms of what body type is valued, but the pressure is no less for boys than it is for girls. 

Girls are encouraged to be as thin as possible and boys are encouraged to have large muscles. The different value around the body type and the pressure that boys and girls face are what discourages healthy body image in children. 

The development of healthy body image in children for both boys and girls begins within the home.  Parents and care-givers need to pay attention to their own feelings of body dissatisfaction and monitor how these feelings are being broadcast within earshot of the children. 

Children as young as 3 years old have asked their mommies if they are fat and this can only happen because of what they hear around them.  Encourage children to have healthy body image by being an example of feeling good about yourself whether or not you look like the body ideal prescribed by society. Encourage children to feel good about their bodies because of what their bodies do rather than what their bodies look like.

Jennifer Kelman, LMSW, CPCJennifer Kelman is a Social Worker, Certified Professional Coach, Author and Entrepreneur.  She has lectured across the country encouraging healthy body image in children.  

Jennifer also has an active imagination and after the birth of her twins created two children’s characters, Mrs. Pinkelmeyer, Silliest, Warmest Know-It-All,™ and her lovable dog, Moopus McGlinden.™ Together they inspire self-esteem in children through their love, warmth and silliness. 

Jennifer has created a full line of products around these characters including dolls, music and a children’s book series. In her coaching business, Jennifer likes to work with those individuals who have the entrepreneurial spirit but need a bit of cheerleading along the way.  In all areas of her work, Jennifer continues to inspire self-esteem and healthy body image in children.