Small changes for promoting a healthy body image in your daughter
We say a lot to our young children because we know that giving them input in the form of talking is important for their language and vocabulary development. But is what we are saying perhaps doing more harm than good?
We need to promote positive body image from a young age and what we say either to them or in front of them needs to convey more positive than negative.
I founded Pretty Foundation to start the conversation early on about healthy body image for young girls and to assist parents to be the best role models possible. Here are four things we could try and change when we speak to our young daughters.
Food is ‘bad’ or ‘junk’
If we are labelling food as bad or junk, we are not teaching them in the best possible way, why certain foods might not be suitable to eat often. This will only tell them that the food is no good for them and lead them to think it will have a negative effect if they are to eat it.
It’s not the case that if they eat certain foods they will automatically gain weight but that is the association that children may make. As an alternative, foods could be distinguished as ‘everyday’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods to highlight that it is okay to eat it occasionally. An example is cake, it may not be the best to eat it every day but you can explain that it’s okay to eat it at occasions like at birthdays or parties.
The word ‘diet’
While being on a diet as an adult may not always be for a bad reason, such as to help with a health issue, it is a word that we have to be careful with using in front of young girls.
Saying that you are on a diet or exercising purely to lose weight may cause your child to internalise the belief that weight and appearance are more important than health and how healthy they feel. If you or someone in the house is on a diet, it needs to be displayed with a positive message. Rather than being associated with weight loss, it could instead be linked to being healthy, feeling good and living a healthy lifestyle.
“The way you look is important”
We may want our daughters to look nice when they go out, and they may even feel the same way, but we should try to avoid giving them the message that looks are everything.
Being critical of our own weight in front of them can also lead them to believe that certain body types are unacceptable or undesirable in society. Try to communicate the message that the way they look isn’t nearly as important as what they can do and their inner, deeper personal qualities. Again, placing an emphasis on a person being healthy and happy is the way to go.
They are pretty
Try to go beyond the use of the word pretty in its usual context of appearance.
‘Pretty’ often focuses on the way someone is on the outside but we need to look deeper by acknowledging and promoting other traits. I encourage people to use the word as a qualifier instead where it precedes an adjective. For instance, we should say things such as “she’s pretty smart” or “she’s pretty brave” to highlight other, non-appearance based characteristics our girls may possess.
If you’re unsure of the language to use around your daughter or how to approach certain topics and scenarios, you can download Pretty Foundation’s free Body Image Parents Guide.
– Merissa Forsyth is the founder and CEO of Pretty Foundation.