Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme this is ‘Body Image’. People with a positive body image are naturally inclined to have higher self-esteem, are happier andmore confident. Can we help our to children love their bodies and develop a positive body image?
According to Mentally Healthy Schools, body image in relation to children is:
“Body image is how a child feels about and sees their body. It can relate to body size or shape, skin colour, appearance, facial features or physical disabilities/differences.
A positive body image supports physical and mental health. It can boost confidence and help children develop a healthy image of themselves. A negative body image or body dissatisfaction can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and poor self-perception. It can also affect learning, participation and school achievement, lead to unhealthy eating practices and increase the risk of developing eating disorders in later life.”
Sadly, recent research by the Be Real Campaign states that more than half (52%) of 11 to 16 year olds regularly worry about how they look and almost a third (30%) are isolating themselves because of body image anxiety.
As parents we may not all have a healthy relationship with our bodies, with many of us constantly dieting and exercising in an effort to achieve the body we aspire to have. However, as parents, we need to teach our children to love their bodies, appreciate what they have been blessed with (hopefully happiness and health) and to make healthy choices.
So how do we help those young people around us?
The best, and often most personally challenging, is to lead by example.
- Do not body shame yourself or others;
- Don’t get stuck on what you are unhappy with when you look in the mirror;
- Focus on what is great and remember it doesn’t have to be about the way you look.
All this is easier said than done when you are an adult, but harder still when you are a tween or teen who is in the throws of puberty.
Their bodies and brains are changing due to the release of hormones which, cruelly at such a challenging time of life, make them more aware of how they look, how their body is changing and what is happening to other bodies around them. While everyone goes through these changes, it can feel frightening, isolating and lead to anxiety.
We’ve looked into what the experts are suggesting can be done to help those you love, love their bodies, which in turn will lead to improved self-esteem and overall happiness.
The charity Young Minds has some great advice:
- Be kind to yourself and try not to compare yourself to the many images you see online and in magazines, which are often digitally changed to make them look ‘perfect’ – they don’t reflect how people look in real life.
- Focus on the things you like about yourself, and the parts of your body that you like.
- Spend time with people who make you feel positive about yourself. It might help you to write down the nice things people say to you, and not just about how you look. Remember, people value you for many reasons.
- Think about what advice you would give a friend if they told you they were struggling with the way they look and remember that advice whenever you start having negative thoughts.
- Talk to someone you trust. It could be your parents or wider family members, like older cousins, aunts or uncles. Outside home, it could be a teacher, a neighbour, close family friend or someone from a club you attend.
The Children’s Society has similar advice:
- Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself: Things that are not related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often.
- Remind yourself that true beauty is not skin-deep: Look at yourself as a whole person, beauty is a state of mind and not a state of body.
- Surround yourself with positive people: It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognise the importance of liking yourself just as you are.
- Clothes: Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body.
- Body image and the media: Reduce your amount of social and media access. Be aware of images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body and remember that these images may have been edited by Photoshop.
- Do something nice for yourself: Do something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap or find a peaceful place outside to relax.
So, parents, let’s get positive, make healthy life choices and highlight what is great about our kids.
Other interesting reading: