What messages are we sending our children about body image?

June 23, 2017

Recently I saw a comment on a Facebook video of a friend’s one year old, which congratulated the baby on being slender. They then described their own child as having ‘thunder thighs’. On the same day, I read a post by an overweight person who was proclaiming that children should be taught that all body sizes are okay.

Both of these experiences made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Firstly, why are we discussing the body shapes of one year old babies in such terms? Or, indeed, in any terms that don’t relate to their healthy development. As long as a baby is tracking their growth chart, they are healthy. There is no need to mention them being ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ or otherwise. It concerns me that our children (and, specifically, my child) are growing up in a time where people are still putting an emphasis on what we look like.

Promoting positive body image in children

Don’t get me wrong, I can be guilty of it too. I often refer to my ‘fat’ belly. My belly isn’t fat. Yes, I am carrying a bit of ‘baby weight’ (although to be honest I think a similar amount was there pre-baby), but my thin frame and easily-bloated stomach make my tummy look pretty big. I was even mistaken for being pregnant (again) last month. I’m okay with that, though. I know that I eat healthily and I’m not going to be shamed into thinking it’s not okay that I can no longer fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. That ship has sailed. My body has structurally changed since having Little M. My hips are wider, for a start. That’s why I can’t get into my pre-pregnancy jeans; not because I have an inch that I can pinch at the front. I need to check myself when I’m talking about my body so that Little M grows up to know that non-lingerie-model-type bodies are beautiful, too.

This idea can be taken too far, though. I’m sorry, I may get lynched for this, but I don’t think it’s okay to say that all body shapes and sizes are wonderful. Because they’re not. Being overweight is not healthy.

According to the World Health Organization, 2.8 billion people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

That’s not okay. We need to teach our children that eating healthily, taking regular exercise and looking after our bodies is important. Not that it’s okay to be lazy and eat whatever you like because, hey, don’t worry, fat is beautiful! According to WHO, 42 million preschool children were categorised as being overweight in 2015. Those children will be more susceptible to illnesses such diabetes and heart disease at a younger age. Do we really think that it’s acceptable to encourage our children that this is a positive thing?

I feel like I may sound like I’m contradicting myself here, but I’m not. What I’m trying to say is, we need to educate our children that it’s okay that we don’t all look the same. That being skinny isn’t necessarily that best way to be. That there’s a range of body shapes and sizes that are perfectly healthy. That as we grow, our bodies will grow and change with us, and that’s okay. But at the same time, they need to learn that our bodies are to be looked after; nurtured, loved and protected, so that we can live long, happy and healthy lives.

What are your thoughts on this? What messages are you sending your children about their bodies?

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