Helping Kids Deal with Body Shaming
My daughter was only 6 years old when body shaming first came up. She wasn’t even 10 yet, and she was already starting to draw comparisons and rationalize her standard of beauty. She is exceptionally tall for her age, towering over her peers with tight curls and brown skin. And yet her first bout of body shaming wasn’t self-inflicting – it was directed towards me.
“Mom, why can’t you have a flat belly like Ann’s mom does? And why do your boobs have to be so big?” she rattled off as we walked home from school. “Ann’s mom has small ones. I don’t ever want big boobs like you.”
The statement was loaded, and it hit its target right in the chest, shaming me and my 35-year-old body in ways I hadn’t felt in decades. Goodness, I thought, is this what I have to look forward to in her teenage years?! I curtailed her comments with some casual redirection, but her words remained a wound in my heart for several days.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I confided in a friend and told the heart-breaking truth: my daughter was ashamed of my body and wanted me to look like someone else’s mom. After some venting (and a few choice words), I was ready to address the comments with my daughter and share my own version of beauty with her.
My story isn’t that unique. The body shaming struggle is real no matter how old you are. And we all know just how mean kids, especially tweens, can sometimes be to each other (hello hormones!). I won’t lie to you – it’s a constant battle. But you have to start somewhere. Here are a few ways to help kids deal with body shaming now, so they grow up to be healthy, confident adults later.
Focus on Health
Wanting to change your body for the sake of a standard of beauty or other external factors is NEVER a good idea. Trends change and beauty fades. When we measure our worth according to those standards, we set ourselves up for disappointment. To be honest, I could stand to lose a few pounds and focus more intently on my health … which is exactly what I told my daughter after she body shamed me.
Haters gonna hate, and you can’t stop them. But you can define beauty as being healthy, and a healthy body can take many forms, just like healthy hair comes in all textures. Talk about positivity and self-esteem, two other beautiful traits. When your kids define beauty as a healthy mind, body and attitude, they’re less likely to shame others (or themselves) on such a surface level.
Diversify the Perception of Beauty
There is so much beauty in the world, and by showing our kids all the different kinds of beautiful, we allow them to see the various ways in which they can be beautiful. When you’re watching a movie or TV together, call out someone beautiful who might not be deemed “beautiful” by mainstream standards. I’m talking about the weight lifter with incredible strength and beautiful, powerful legs; the dark-skinned actress with flawless, smooth skin; or the little girl with the big smile and friendly demeanor that’s nice to everyone she meets.
Own Your Beauty
Kids are masters of imitation. If you own your beauty, they’re more likely to own theirs. So be a positive role model. Even if you’re having an ugly day or a fat day or a giant zit day, practice positive self-talk. Don’t let them hear you shaming yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to lie. If you feel ugly and fat because you’re tired and haven’t been eating well, talk about how important it is to take care of yourself if you want to feel your best (and most beautiful). Express gratitude and pride for your own body, and let the kids follow your lead.
After the initial shock of my daughter’s comments, I sat her down to talk about all the wonderful things my body has done for me, from keeping me alive when I was sick to playing competitive soccer to creating two beautiful babies who fed from my body for the first year of their lives. No, I don’t have the flattest belly or smallest chest, but I’m grateful for what my body can do all the same.