Ep 72: How to Create a Positive Body Image for Your Kids

I have talked many times - and will continue to talk about - your body image. It’s important. But I want to talk today about something I haven’t talked about much but that I feel is equally important, and that is your kids’ body image.

I get messages and emails ALL the time asking, “How can I help my child?” Whether it’s their weight, their confidence, their food, or their behaviors, moms all over are desperate to raise their children to avoid the hard road they, themselves, have been down. If you’re listening to this podcast, chances are you’ve taken a bit of a beating from diet culture, and from the shame you feel around your own body. We fight food because we fight our bodies, and most of us have done our fair share of fighting with both food and our bodies for years, maybe decades.

As you start to make peace with food and your own body, you probably start to think about how you can circumvent all that garbage for your own kids.

How can we teach our kids to be confident eaters? How can we teach our kids to respect their bodies, trust their bodies, and take good care of their bodies, without ever veering off into the black hole of dieting, food restriction, and body hatred. How can we raise our kids to understand their infinite worth and value that has nothing to do with their appearance?

Our kids go off into a world that screams from every angle, “You’re not good enough as you are - you need to be thin and beautiful or we’ll make you feel worthless.” With all those loud voices, how can we teach our kids to love themselves? How can we help them see, even as we’re learning it ourselves, that all bodies are good bodies and that we are all so much more than an object to be looked at and admired?

These questions have been swirling around in my head lately, for good reason. Not only do I get a lot of questions like this showing up in my messages and my inbox, but also because Emily and I are creating a workshop to teach you what you need to know to answer all those questions. I’ll tell you more about that later.

So let’s jump into it. I want to give you 3 things to teach your kids to help them have a positive body image. These are 3 essential beliefs that you as the parent can cultivate.

The first tip is to celebrate body diversity. Teach your kids that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that all bodies are good bodies. Never, ever comment on your child’s weight - even to give them what you perceive as a compliment. “You’re so skinny” or “you’re healthy and thin” is unhelpful, because it sets up the toxic belief that NOT being skinny is bad, or that thin is the same as healthy. Kids are already getting the message everywhere - TV, books, movies, teachers, and friends - that thin is an important ideal. Pressure to be thin creates self-consciousness, lower self-esteem, and increased risk for depression and disordered eating behaviors like restricting food.

All bodies are good bodies - that’s my favorite mantra. Read books, find TV shows, and consume media together that showcases a wider variety of body sizes than the typical thin body seen on most media. Seek out resources that teach kids that all bodies - no matter the color, size, or ability - are good bodies. Expose them to people and influences that don’t promote the belief that thin bodies are more valuable. Don’t emphasize their appearance in the compliments you give them (you can listen back to Ep. 12 - Compliments for more about giving compliments to others.)

The second tip is to teach your child that their body isn’t wrong, no matter what it looks like. I heard a story about an 8-year old girl who was teased at school for being fat. Her classmates would laugh at her legs in shorts and other cruel things. When she came home from school crying to her mom, her mom’s first instinct was to say, “Oh honey, you’re not fat.” The problem with that is that the girl knew she was in a larger body - she was fat. What she needed to hear wasn’t a denial of the truth, but a reinforcement that the size of her body does not determine her worth. She needs to hear that, no matter what you look like, your body is good and YOU are good. Your body is not wrong. Your body is not bad. Nothing about it is a problem. No matter what health challenges you or your children face, practicing this belief that your body is never wrong is a powerful shift and will help your kids have more resilience to other people’s opinions about their bodies. Another resource on this topic is Ep. 6: Your Body is Never Wrong.

The third and final tip is to teach your kids to take care of their bodies. The best way to do this is without perpetuating fat phobia. You can want and encourage your kids to be healthy without promoting thinness as the ideal.

Teach them good self-care behaviors - don’t scare them into eating their vegetables and that if they don’t, they will be fat and sick. Encourage joyful movement, and help your child find ways to move their body that are fun for them. Don’t focus on calories or numbers around food, but teach them to eat a variety of foods.

If you’re worried about your child’s health - maybe because they don’t enjoy movement or because they don’t eat the way you want them to eat - don’t allow health-promoting behaviors to feel like a punishment or like they’re being singled out because of their body. Set family goals that encourage healthy behaviors instead of making it about that child. Maybe going on family walks or hikes or playing outdoor games together would be helpful.

I want to give you a bonus tip that you probably already know but that absolutely bears repeating. You have to believe (or practice believing!) these yourself in order for it to stick for your kids. Kids are so smart. Your daughter hears you say, “You’re beautiful, honey, don’t worry what anyone thinks about you.” And then she sees you worrying about how you look in that outfit or that swimsuit. She sees you worrying about your food. She hears you make comments about your body - the parts you are unhappy with, the shame you feel, what you wish you could change, your lack of willpower. Your child is no dummy. They see that double standard loud and clear.

These 3 tips are not just things to teach your kids, they are beliefs that you need to practice and encourage and nurture in your own heart and mind. If you don’t believe them yet, teaching them is a great way to practice believing. I have a small story to illustrate the power of speaking the things out loud that we believe or want to believe.

When my kids were little, we were driving home from church, and one of them asked a question about something they had learned at church. So I started telling the story - a story that is fundamental to my faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - to my kids. It was a story I had heard at least a thousand times, and talked about almost as many. But as I told my kids the story in the car that day, it hit me like a bolt of lightning.

As I spoke the words out loud, I realized how deeply and fundamentally I believed what I was saying. I believed it before, of course, but speaking it, out loud, strengthened my belief. It was pivotal for me.

And I think the same about these principles of food and body. The more you talk about them, ask questions, explore - either with your kids or on your own - the stronger your belief and understanding will be.

That may be one of the best results I’ve had from starting this podcast. Speaking my thoughts and beliefs out loud to you, every single week, has taught me more about what I believe than anything else. It has clarified and strengthened my trust in what I’ve learned - and what I continue to learn. So if you’re wondering how to talk about it, just try. Just practice.

So in that spirit of learning and practicing, I want to tell you a really exciting announcement - a resource Emily and I have created to help you do all the things I just talked about.

I’m so excited to announce today that the first Raising Confident Eaters workshop is officially happening, and it’s going to be just what you need if you’ve ever struggled with those questions yourself.

We plan to hold this workshop a few times a year all over the place, but we’re starting with Emily’s home state of Utah. We’ll be having our first ever Raising Confident Eaters workshop in Lehi, UT on Sat. July 27th. This is an all-day workshop where you’ll learn how to raise your kids to feed themselves well and trust their bodies. We’ll be talking all about feeding kids (how to let them be intuitive eaters while still setting healthy parental boundaries to teach them good habits), how to cultivate positive body image in kids, and how to do the all-important work of healing your own relationship with food + your body so you can set the example. That’s how this will really sink in - when your kids see you walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

So that’s the workshop. You can see all the details and grab your spot at eatconfident.co/workshop. We have a limited number of spots, and we anticipate selling out pretty quickly, so don’t delay. The other great news is that we’re offering a $30 off code through the month of May - we have all those details on our website for you, but make sure to use the code before June 1st to get your spot. We have big plans later this year for Arizona, and next year we’re dreaming up some other places.

If you don’t live in Utah but you really want to come, make a weekend of it! The workshop will be held at a hotel, making it really convenient for you to make a girls’ trip out of it. Grab your sister or a friend, get a room at the hotel, and take a break to dig into this essential area of parenting and self-development. It’s going to be great. All the details are at eatconfident.co/workshop, and I hope we’ll see you there.

Stephanie Webb