· By Julia Boase

Empowering Your Child to Have a Positive Body Image: Strategies You Can Implement at Home to Support Your Young Person

This article has kindly been written by Gel from @thisisyourbody_nurition. Gel is a nutritionist that specialises in the area of body image and teens. She works with the well known Embrace Body Image Movement as well as one on one with teens and also in collaboration with schools. You can find out more about Gel and her work here


How do you feel about your body? Has the way you feel changed throughout the course of your life? Do you speak kindly to your body? Does your teen listen to the way you speak to your body?

These are all big questions. They might be confronting to read and answer and that is okay. Our bodies are always evolving and, throughout life, our relationship with our body will evolve also.

With that in mind, what is body image?

Body image is the “the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and beliefs we have about our bodies and how we look, including our shape, size, weight, and the way our body functions for us.” It isn’t the way others perceive us; it is the way that we perceive ourselves.

That means, in theory, that we have the power to shape the way we view ourselves. While I think that’s true, there are a few factors to take into consideration. The biggest one is that we don’t exist in silos. We don’t grow up just seeing our own body, we are constantly surrounded by other bodies, which gives us something to compare ourselves to.

We are also greatly influenced by others, particularly when we’re young. We have our close connections like our friends and family, we have our online connections through influencers and celebrities, and we have our media connections through TV and print. The list of influences is endless.

Unfortunately for all of us, we don’t live in a society where everyone wholeheartedly accepts and celebrates the body they’re in. We are also living in a time of ‘normative discontent’.

You mind be wondering what ‘normative discontent’ is, so I am going to run you through it. Normative discontent is a term that’s been coined to describe just how normal it has become for us to feel bad about our bodies all or most of the time. Think about it, many of us bond over the shared, normal discomfort with our bodies. We talk about what we ‘hate’, what we are currently trying to ‘fix’, how guilty we feel about what we ate, or how ‘bad’ we are if we didn’t exercise that day. I think most of us would find it really difficult to imagine what it would be like to not live in that way.

It doesn’t have to be that way for our young people though. While we can’t filter through every message they receive online and outside the home, we can take steps within the home to create the foundations for a positive relationship with food and their body.

Before I give you a few strategies to try, I want us all to take a moment to practice some self-compassion. You too have grown up in a world that places high emphasis and importance on appearance and conforming to society’s perception of beauty. Behaviours might have been modelled to you as a young person that you have repeated in front of your own children. It is not too late to start implementing new strategies in your home to improve your teens’ relationship with food and their body. In fact, you changing the way that you speak about and feel about your own body might just inspire them to embark upon a similar journey. You’re doing your best, that is more than enough.

Here are five things you can do to support your teens’ body image:

1. Avoid weighing yourself and restricting your diet in front of your teen

I’m not a parent, but I have struggled with my relationship with my body and projected my insecurities onto others. It is an awful feeling, and something I would take back if I could. That said, I believe that people are doing their best with the tools that they have. At the time, I didn’t realise that me being so hypercritical of my body was having a negative impact on my little sister. I thought it was only impacting me. When I learnt that my actions were hurting her, it broke my heart. The young people in our lives often model their behaviours based on what they have seen. If they witness you being unkind to yourself, it normalises that behaviour. Watching a loved one show unconditional love towards their own body and that of others, demonstrates that no matter what a person looks like, they are worthy and loveable.

2. Call food what it is

Labels such as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘sometimes’, ‘treat’, ‘cheat’, ‘clean’, ‘guilt free’ don’t have a place when we’re describing food. It adds morality to the food and can get in the way of your teen getting enough food because they’re scared to make the ‘wrong’ choice. Instead of saying to your teen, “I’m going to have a little chocolate as a sneaky treat.” Perhaps you could say, “I’m going to have a couple of squares of chocolate, would you like some?”. The same language can be used that evening at dinner too, you could say, “I’m adding some avocado to my taco bowl, would anyone else like any?”. By offering a variety of foods throughout the course of the day and not propping one up above another, we are fostering an environment where we allow all foods to be accepted as part of a diverse diet.

3. Compliment their hard work and personality traits, not their appearance

Complimenting and commenting on a person’s body can draw unwanted attention to the receiver. It can make them uncomfortable, upset, disappointed or propel them to continue engaging in potentially unhealthy behaviours in pursuit of further praise and compliments. It is for these reasons that we should instead move our compliments and kind words to a person’s characteristics. Did they do something kind? Are they wearing something you love? Did their smile just light up a room? Do you find them absolutely hilarious? Did they articulate something really clearly for you?
I love this line in Lindsay & Lexie Kite’s book ‘More than a body’: “My purpose is to bring light into this world, not to decorate it.” People are so much more than the bodies they exist in. 

4. Create a safe space to talk about their changing body

Teens don’t wake up one morning fully developed. The changes that occur throughout puberty are gradual and they may feel awkward or self-conscious about the seemingly strange changes that are taking place. Uncertainty and change are difficult things to navigate for young people (and adults too), so creating a safe space where they can share how they’re feeling can be so valuable. I would recommend starting a conversation in a save space and come from a place of curiosity. You might initiate a chat by saying, “I notice that you were looking quite closely at your body in the mirror, was there something in particularly you were looking at.” Listen to what they say and empathise. It all starts with conversation and from there you may explore different avenues to provide them with extra support if they would like it or need it. 


5. Speak positively about your own body

This can be hard to do in a world where we constantly have an unrealistic beauty standard being dangled in front of our eyes. We can create a new narrative for our young people by speaking kindly about our bodies and what they do for us. We can do this by saying things like, “I am so proud of my body”, “I appreciate my body”, “My body is so strong.” It might be uncomfortable at the start, particularly if this is something that you struggle with. Please know that you’re not alone if this is something you find hard and that you are always worthy of asking for support for your own body image. You don’t have to wait until it’s debilitating to ask for help.

There is a lot of information there, I would recommend taking some time to choose one or two that you want to start practicing now. Then, when you feel like you have them down pat, add in another one. The journey to appreciating and celebrating the body you’re in is not linear. It is not linear for adults, and it is not linear for young people either.

Just a reminder if no one has told you today, you’re wonderful just as you are.


Clinical Nutritionist, This is Your Body Nutrition


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