“I hate my hips.” “My arms are too skinny.” “If only I was thinner.” These are the kind of comments that some parents may hear as their children reach the pre-teen years – or even earlier. Those kinds of comments are not surprising, considering that adults themselves frequently talk negatively about their bodies, saying how they “feel fat” or “need to lose weight.” Plus, with most fashion models being thinner than 98% of American women, many critics agree the media bombards children with unrealistic body images.
According to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), having a negative body image can lead to everything from not wanting to go swimming (for fear of wearing a bathing suit,) to eating disorders, depression, low self esteem and obsession with weight loss. And these issues affect a large number of children. In recent studies, forty-two percent of elementary school students between the first and third grades said they want to be thinner and eighty percent of 10-year-old children said they’re afraid of being fat.
Parents can make a difference. Here are seven things you can do to help encourage a positive body image.
Identify your own biases. Understanding your own attitude about body shape and weight will help you to foster a positive environment. “Practice taking people in general and women in particular seriously for what they say, feel and do, not for how slender or ‘well put together’ they appear,” advise researchers Michael Levine, Ph.D. and Linda Smolak, Ph.D. Former president of the National Eating Disorders Association, Doug Bunnel, Ph.D., agrees that being aware is important. One exercise he suggests: after you’re done reading this article, for the next twelve hours pay attention to how often you’re judging someone based on his or her appearance and weight. “If you’re doing it regularly, you probably feel others are doing it to you, and it perpetuates the cycle,” he notes.
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