Body image is one of the biggest contributors to self esteem in young people- particularly our middle school students. When a student feels poorly about their appearance it can diminish self confidence and even lead to unhealthy behaviors around food.
This problem has long been acknowledged as a part of girls' social development, but impacts all genders. Girls are often pressured to be thin or to develop proportions that are impossible for their body type. Boys might feel shame about bodies that don't match a superhero ideal. Unrealistic expectations of what a body "should" look like are on full display in magazines, on TV, and across social media. But the truth is that all bodies are beautiful- and it's on the adults in a child's life to instill those messages early!
Unfortunately, poor body image can also contribute to a type of mental health condition called eating disorders. This branch of mental health disorders is one of the most deadly due to the stress placed on the body's vital systems. Here are some ways to help build positive attitudes around food, exercise, and your child's body image:
Keep meals and snacks on a regular schedule.
DOs: Schedule healthy meals and allow children to eat nutrient-rich foods until they are full. Keep healthy snacks available (celery, apples, string cheese) for between meals if a child is hungry. Portion out treats or unhealthy snacks before giving them to your child.
DON'Ts: Try not to allow your children to mindlessly snack on processed or sugary foods- especially in front of the TV- as it could lead to binge eating behaviors in the future. Avoid restricting calories or access to healthy snacks when your child is hungry. They're growing!
Make sure the focus of physical activity is on health- NOT weight loss.
When discussing the importance of exercise, make sure the conversation is about health- heart health, strong muscles, immune system health, mental health- and not about "fat" or weight loss. Demonizing fat and weight gain can contribute to unhealthy attitudes around exercise and poor body image as a child's growing body naturally fluctuates in weight.
Combat unrealistic body goals and aspirations.
Children are exposed to a lot of unhealthy expectations in the media they consume. Even if we limit screen time, it is likely that they will still encounter the types of images that compromise self image and skew perceptions of beauty. When you notice an ad that is clearly photoshopped, I'd encourage you to mention this to your child and emphasize that the airbrushed skin they see is probably not reflective of that model's actual skin. Here are some other questions that can start a discussion about unrealistic body expectations in the media:
"Why do you think companies heavily edit photos like this for their ads?"
"Is it realistic for all men/women to look like this? Why or why not?"
"Do you think this person would still be be beautiful without photoshop?"
"Is physical appearance or health more important? Why?
And finally, if you're concerned that your child's body image is impacting their health, please contact the Wellness office! We can provide your child with resources (at school or in the community) to help address low self esteem or these warning signs of disordered eating:
Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns!
Lynsie Harris is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and the Wellness Director at BRCS.