How to build positive body image in our children
There’s a popular Buzzfeed video that shows beauty standards throughout the ages. The video (also available on YouTube) focuses on women, because they generally have bigger body-image issues than men do. Just an example, ‘boxy’ female bodies were admired in Ancient Egypt and again in the 20s. Curvy girls with slightly poochy tummies were hot during the renaissance and in the war years. The 60s and 80s preferred modelesque figures.
These days, curves are in, but there’s a bias towards the kind of tiny waists and ample bottoms that can only be achieved through surgery and Victorian corsets. It’s also worth noting that in some indigenous communities, slim figures were a sign of poverty, so your family would literally fatten you up before marriage (or in-laws would pressure you to fill out soon after). This ensured the neighbours didn’t gossip about your broke home.
In Mauritius, teenage girls are still frequently force-fed to give them the ‘right shape’ while in the west, bulimia and anorexia can literally slim a girl to death. Teenage boys (and young men) are getting caught up in body image drama as well. Boys with slight frames and fast metabolisms feel pushed to over-exercise and use steroids to bulk up. It’s not until their 40s and 50s that the average man embraces his dad-bod (which, amusingly, was popular with frat boys in the mid noughties). Point is … all bodies are beautiful in their own way.
Right body models
That can seem like a pointless platitude, especially because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, following ‘popular’ versions of body beauty are risky, because they change over time. Imagine spending two years in the gym getting buff, only to be told the optimal bicep size is now 5 inches. Or struggling to shed fat and becoming medically underweight, then failing your audition because they now want plus-sized participants.
In an ideal world, we would all be happy with ourselves, forming intrinsic measures and not comparing ourselves to others. In the meantime, we can help our kids by giving them different role models. Find out what areas of their body they’re unhappy with. Start with things they can’t change, like height and skin tone. Then actively seek people who look like your kids and are happy with their lives.
If you can find someone in your neighbourhood, it’s a plus, because they can physically meet and engage with them. But if this isn’t feasible, you can find articles and videos – body image is a big thing now, so there are lots of resources. Get a healthy mix – actors, celebrities, sports-people, or even just regular people with body-image related blogs. It’s easier to share these with younger kids, because they still look up to us. Teens and tweens are a little harder to get through, so you could offer them resources and let them explore on their own.
Zoom into their interests
For best results, find something they’re already interested in. The kid that’s perpetually in headphones might prefer a podcast. The sporty kid will connect better to a sample from their sport than a stylista, for example. So as you search for role models, seek within your kids’ niche. A short kid might be inspired by Jada Pinkett Smith, Kevin Hart, or even Mike Myers. A short aspiring basketballer? Muggsy Bogues is 5’3. Non-waify ballerinas? 16-year old Lizzy Howell can dance en pointe.
And remember that for kids, being too small can be just as frustrating as being too big. Google has convenient search metrics, so you can look for something as specific as ‘celebrities who weigh less than 50kg’ or ‘dark-skinned famous people under 4 feet tall.’ Share these stories and images with your kids.Next, you can carefully introduce your kids to make-over shows. Carefully, because they might gain a message of materialism, so watch it with them to guide them along. The ideal take-away is that any body type can be flattering if you wear the right clothes for your style and shape.
Trying on a different cut of jeans could make your ‘too small’ or ‘too big’ child look just right. Also, remind them of their inner qualities. And while physique isn’t the most important thing, we can still use exercise to improve our bodies. Enroll your kids in fun exercise options like boxing training. It’s a high intensity, full-body work-out with quick effects. Plus, it’s a ‘cool’ sport so they’re more likely to stick with it than traditional gym exercises. Boxing trains their mind as well as their muscles, so it will help them shift their attitudes and look at themselves in a different way. It’s good for their health too, which is a highly underrated but crucial focus of any exercise plan.