Promoting Positive Body Image in Children

on November 18, 2011

by Kiera

We live in a world that values thinness. Media images of very thin models tell us that thin is beautiful and news headlines tell us that obesity is an “epidemic” and that fat is “bad.” What we hear less about is weight bias and how it affects our children.

What is weight bias? Weight bias can be defined as the tendency to form unreasonable judgments based on a person’s weight. Because our culture values thinness, weight bias is common in our society.

What effect does weight bias have on children? It may be a surprise that children as young as 3 can experience weight bias. Many overweight children experience weight-based bullying by peers. This type of bullying is related to low self-esteem and symptoms of depression among other negative outcomes.

It is not only with peers that children can experience weight-based teasing.  Many children also report being teased about their weight by their parents. Even negative “fat talk” not aimed at children can lead to unhelpful feelings and behaviours. Being aware of the messages we are sending to children about weight is an important part of promoting positive body image and self-esteem in children. A positive body image is important to help children develop a healthy relationship with food, enjoy physical activity and to prevent disordered eating.

What can parents and caregivers do to promote positive body image and self-esteem in children? Here are a few tips:

  • Help children accept that most of their body’s shape and size is set by their genes

  • Model acceptance of your own body and model healthy attitudes about eating and activity

  • Listen when your child talks about their changing body and their feelings, and help them deal with any teasing or bullying

  • Focus on your child’s special characteristics and abilities rather than on his or her appearance (e.g., funny, helpful, artistic, caring, friendly, etc.)

  • Teach children to be respectful and accepting of others no matter their weight, size, or shape.

  • Teach children to become critical of media images

  • Support your child in finding physical activities that they enjoy

  • Enjoy sharing food together whenever possible

If you are concerned about a child, talk to your health care professional. For more information on disordered eating, contact Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorder Prevention Program by email, or by phone at (604) 988-5231, ext. 204; outside the Lower Mainland call 1-866-988-5231, ext. 204.


photo courtesy of daveparker via Flickr


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