Although no one is born perfect, hearing criticisms about one’s physical appearance is something that even children experience.
Body image is developed at a very young age, with children as young as 3 to 5 years old beginning to worry about their appearance and even express dissatisfaction. It can be challenging to avoid children getting exposed to “the ideal body type” in society.
Body shaming in childhood and adolescence can harm a child’s mental health and personality development. It can lead to a decrease in their level of self-confidence and self-esteem. Children dissatisfied with their appearance are also more prone to become depressed, develop eating disorders or indulge in harmful behaviours. Additionally, kids who experience body shaming may be hesitant to interact with others, and they are thus, less likely to make friends. They may also start to feel inferior and, this feeling of inferiority grows more profound as they develop into adolescents.
Consequently, even as an adult, they may continue to have a negative body image and spend all their time and money solely on improving their physical appearance. Therefore, body shaming can have long term impacts on children. Research has also linked anxiety over one’s weight with a higher risk of suicide. As a result, it is essential to teach kids how to deal with and reject body shaming.
Children’s knowledge and perception about body image and body shaming usually come from several sources, such as their parents, friends and classmates, and the media.
Furthermore, since children have a predisposition to form thoughts, ideas, and reasoning based on what they see, hear, and feel, their environment may play an essential part in instilling a positive sense of body image in their children. Therefore, parents can play an indispensable role in helping children to reject body-shaming.
Ten ways to reject body-shaming:
1. Stand up for themselves and others
Children should learn to stand up for themselves whenever someone is criticising their appearance. Doing so will help discourage body shaming, but it will also help boost their confidence. Furthermore, not participating and speaking up when someone else is being shamed can help to reject body-shaming
2. Being compassionate
Being compassionate and accepting that not everyone has the same body shape and size can help them avoid criticising others and avoiding criticising themselves.
3. Having positive role models
One way to reject body-shaming is by encouraging kids to seek out role models who have a strong self-image and a healthy attitude towards their bodies. These role models can be a celebrity, a teacher, or even their parents. Kids usually watch and learn from their parents. If parents place a lot of emphasis on their appearance, their children may also learn to do so. Therefore, kids will learn from them by avoiding criticising others’ appearance and being confident in their skin.
4. Having a healthy lifestyle
Kids should focus more on being healthy rather than concentrating on their appearance. Having a healthy lifestyle can help them have a positive body image, thus allowing them to reject body shaming. A well-balanced diet and enough exercise can attain it.
5. Stop making comparison
Comparing their appearance with others can decrease kids’ satisfaction with their bodies. Therefore, stopping to compare themselves with others can help to encourage a positive body image.
6. Being critical of media messages and images
The media usually promote unrealistic and unattainable body images such as being thin or muscular. Teaching kids to become critical of what they see in the media can help them understand that these messages and pictures can be misleading and damaging to their health.
7. Replace negative self-talk with affirmations
Instead of talking to themselves about how they are “too skinny” or “too fat,” for example, Kids should instead learn to replace these negative thoughts with affirmations that highlight what they appreciate about themselves.
8. Stop putting too much focus on appearance
Kids should consider more emphasis on their traits, abilities, talents, and hobbies. This will help to improve their self-esteem and to put less importance on their appearance.
9. Find activities that encourage a positive body image
Many activities such as dancing and sports can help kids to become more comfortable with their bodies.
10. Avoid harmful activities
Competition such as Beauty Pageant competitions for children can be harmful to a child’s perception of his body image and should be avoided.
Mansi Thaneswari Hursahye, YUVA Intern and Psychological Science student at Curtin University (Mauritius)