Addressing Weight Shaming and/or Promoting Positive Body Image In Your Child

Oct 4, 2021

How to address weight shaming and/or promote positive body image among your child.

Bullying has received increased attention in recent years because of its prevalence and serious effects on self-esteem and mental health.  Weight shaming is a common form of bullying among children and teens, but is often overlooked due to the widespread anti-obesity messages prevalent in our weight and image focused society.  

Being stigmatized by weight can have serious effects. 

If your child has experienced weight shaming or is dissatisfied with how they look, here are some things you can do to help.

It is important that children do not associate their bodies with the perception that they are liked or not liked.

• Explain that their body is part of them, and oftentimes, is changing because they are still growing, but it doesn’t make them who they are.

• Ask them what they like about their friends and point out the reasons they list that are not related to their friends’ bodies.

It is critical that there is no focus on their weight or changing their body. Their self-esteem needs to be formed on something other than their appearance.

• Promote self-esteem by focusing on positive internal qualities they have (kindness, imagination, intelligence, etc). One idea is to start a family tradition of telling each other one thing you like about each other every night.

• Avoid all conversations about appearance or weight. Comments focused on other people’s weight or appearance send the message that it is something of value they should be concerned about.

Kids learn their body image largely from their parents and they will be much more observant about how their parents feel about their bodies if they are unhappy with their own.

• Demonstrate how to care for and appreciate your body.

There are many online resources and books/workbooks available to help youth build self-esteem and promote positive body image that parents can discuss with their children or youth can read independently.

In summary, as a parent, you can be influential in helping your child improve their body image by

1. intentionally focussing on internal qualities that give them value rather than appearance.

2. eliminating discussion about weight/body

3. modeling a positive self-image 

4. engaging with them in learning how to improve body image

Krista is a registered dietitian that is a Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition.  She has worked with clients who have eating disorders for the past 12 years. In her work, she not only promotes a positive relationship with food but also with one’s body. 

1. Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164.

2. Smolak, L. (2011). Body image development in childhood. In T. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image: A Handbook of Science, Practice, and Prevention (2nd ed.).New York: Guilford. 

3. Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R. M. and Brownell, K. D. (2008), Changes in Perceived Weight Discrimination Among Americans, 1995–1996 Through 2004–2006. Obesity, 16: 1129–1134. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.35

4. Martin, J. B. (2010). The Development of Ideal Body Image Perceptions in the United States.Nutrition Today, 45(3), 98-100. Retrieved from nursingcenter.com/pdf.asp?AID=1023485 

5. Golden, N. H., Schneider, M., & Wood, C. (2016). Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(3). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1649 

6. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Food for Thought: Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) Columbia University; New York: 2003.

7. Hatzenbuehler ML, Keyes KM, Hasin DS. Associations between perceived weight discrimination and the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the general population. Obesity 2009;17(11)2033–2039

Written by Krista Godfrey, MS, RD, LMNT

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