Raising body positive kids - part one

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#bodypositive #bopo - if you’re a mum with an Instagram account, the first thing that might spring to mind is a photo of a mum rocking her tiger stripes in a bikini. How you feel in swimwear is a really important part of the body confidence conversation between you and your little ones, but to raise body positive kids, we need to start with the bigger picture.

Body positivity is a social movement rooted in the work of fat activism that started in 1960s (although apparently dates back to Victorian times, when early feminists rejected social pressure to wear corsets!). It’s about being inclusive to bodies of all shapes and sizes and celebrating the beauty in the most marginalised bodies. Being body positive can include self-love towards your mum-tum (I’m still working on this myself), but isn’t complete unless it includes action to reduce the systemic oppression experienced by people who will never fit existing societal beauty standards.

The cultural message that we need to change our bodies to be more attractive, healthier or morally superior is insidious… the idea that you need to “get your body back” after having a baby is an example of this. Instead of acknowledging that our bodies have done something miraculous and are forever changed, we feel pressure to return them neatly to the way they looked before pregnancy. But this isn’t comparable with the daily onslaught of stigma and discrimination that people in larger bodies experience - the assumptions made about their behaviour and health by the media, public health organisations and random passers-by.

To raise body positive kids, we need to recognise and celebrate body diversity and teach our children that all bodies are worthy bodies, and never to make assumptions about people based on their body appearance. I realise that this is easier said than done if you don’t have a brilliant relationship with your own body.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a two-day workshop on body image healing led by Dietitians Marci Evans and Fiona Sutherland. I learnt so much and want to learn so much more, which is part of the reason why I’m about to start studying for a MSc in psychology. Everyone’s body has a story and we all deserve to feel comfortable in our skin. I’m especially passionate about preventing body image concerns in young children, which seem to be increasingly prevalent.

I’ll go into the research on this more in future posts but, for now, what are some of the things that we as parents can do to improve our own body confidence and begin to promote body positivity in our kids?

  1. Widen your lens on what is beautiful. That might mean looking at and appreciating pictures of different bodies on your social media feed - postnatal bodies, older bodies, higher weight bodies, and so on. Help your children recognise all kinds of beauty in the everyday world - let them approach visible differences with curiosity, and chat with them about why diversity is a positive thing. How boring would the world be if we all looked the same?

  2. Separate self-care from size. Try to take care of your body because you value it, rather than to change your shape or weight. Notice how you speak about food, physical activity and your body in front of your children. Show them that you eat food that nourishes your body and soul and that you move because it makes your body feel good. Encourage your kids to enjoy what their bodies can do, too.

  3. Spend time building strengths and interests that aren’t related to your appearance at all. What really matters to you? What would you spend your time doing if you weren’t worried about your body?