Body image 101 for parents

body image 101 for parents
Madhavi Nawana Parker from Positive Minds Australia gives us body image 101 for parents! She runs us through some tips on how we can encourage our kids to have a positive body image and some things we can do ourselves to help along the way.

WORDS: Madhavi Nawana Parker, Positive Minds Australia

Children can shift from complete trust and love for their bodies, to seeing their faces and bodies in a harsh and critical light, in just the blink of an eye.

Social media pressure, peer pressure, social comparison, internal pressure, belonging to sporting/hobby groups where a particular body type is highly prized, experiencing puberty early or late and others placing excessive value on their appearance are some of the causes. Their personality, temperament, genetic predisposition and life experiences will also have an impact.

Before I go on, this article is not intended to place pressure on you to be the sole guardian of your child’s body image. You’re one person. There’s a lot that happens in parenting that’s out of your control and let’s face it, the path is often winding. Blame, guilt and fear aren’t helpful. Focus on what you can control and show yourself kindness and self-compassion along the way.

Insecure and negative body image isn’t new. Arguably, every generation goes through it. The stories I recall as a teenager in High School are similar to what teenagers tell me about in our rooms, thirty years later. Children comparing cellulite, telling friends how ‘fat’ they feel and how much they hate particular parts of their body, wanting to gain or lose weight are alarming, but all too familiar.

Young people immerse themselves in ‘literature’ often written by or based on a celebrity, that offer quick solutions to slash the kilos or gain some muscle. We found these articles in magazines that we would sit and read together. In real time, we would talk to, relate to and reassure each other during these intense reading sessions. Today, at the press of a button, Instagram, YouTube, on-demand TV and the internet flood our children’s minds, often when they are on their own, with unrealistic images of beauty,  social comparison and promises of ‘solutions’ to problems they didn’t know they had (because they aren’t actually problems).

Not liking your body is a horrible feeling. Most people can probably relate to having experienced that feeling at some point. Our negativity bias means we have a tendency to focus on what we’re unhappy about and would like to change, rather than what we love about these precious bodies of ours that serve us and carry us, all day long.

We all want to spare our children the pain of a negative body image. Developing a positive body image isn’t a clear cut path for all. There are many layers of complexity impacting how someone ends up having a positive or negative body image.

Here are some ideas to help you build your own framework to approach this important issue.


  1. Body image is the idea in your child’s mind about how they look, it doesn’t necessarily reflect how they actually look. If you’re feeling puzzled about what your child is worried about when it comes to body image, that might be why. Body image doesn’t always stem from reality. Trying to prove to your child that what they see is wrong will probably be fruitless; they won’t see what you see and might feel you just don’t understand (and we don’t need to give them another reason to think we don’t understand, do we?)


  1. Active listening helps. Instead of trying to prove their concerns aren’t true, just listen. Prove them with a warm, compassionate space to get their thoughts out, whether they’re right or wrong. Without your commentary, emotions and judgement, young people can often gain their own unique clarity and perspective and find their truth within that space. To offer active listening, give them your full attention and listen quietly without interrupting. Once they’ve aired their concerns, avoid judgement and if you’re going to offer advice, ask first. If you offer advice and they just wanted you to listen, they might start telling you less in the long run.


  1. Step out of the emergency lane when they come to you with a body image concern. Your emotional regulation is important during moments like these. If they see you alarmed, they will increase their alarm too. Try to sit still and be present with them. Allow yourself time to think, listen and take it all into consideration.


  1. Remind them that while they might feel like everyone’s looking at them, no one is thinking as much about their appearance as much as they are about their own.


  1. Pay attention to what they are following and watching. The more you see something, the more real it feels. When you’re a child the difference between fact and reality is even harder to differentiate. Take the movie Encanto and the character Mirabel compared to the movie Cinderella. Your child will get a vastly different experience watching these two movies and the messages they convey about body image. Try to expose them to as much diversity as possible in what they watch and who they are around.


  1. Avoid commenting on your own and other people’s weight and appearance. Avoid comparisons that make one body type sound better than another. Comment on character instead. Or stick to the weather.


  1. Develop your own healthy body image. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, use your children as a reason to seek help and reset it.


As always, take care beautiful parents, you’re doing better than you realise.


Madhavi Nawana Parker


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