Body Image Problems Start Early

Conflicting messages about body image are in the news again. This week, a reality TV star’s Instagram post showed her wearing her 4-year-old daughter’s pajamas.

The image prompted conflicting responses. Some took the photo as an innocent, playful act between mother and daughter. Others considered it a dysfunctional interpretation of the 40-something celebrity’s body image and portrayal of her size.

Lost in this dispute: How parents influence a child’s body image.

Mothers and fathers must be mindful not only to love their children, but also how children take on parents’ issues as their own. This will encourage healthy role modeling for children and their body images—encouraging positive views of themselves today and in their future.

In fact, opposing parent/child relationship factors can indirectly increase body dissatisfaction, according to recent findings in the Journal of Developmental Psychology. Researchers established in 2000 that female body image dissatisfaction emerges early–as young as age 5–and often reflects perceived failure to achieve a “thin ideal.” A few years later, a study determined that body image is a part of self-concept that comes from connections with caregivers and significant others.

Antidotes for Body Image Negativity

If your body image needs a boost, here’s some self-supportive homework:

  • Experiment with mind-body exercises. Many people report that activities such as yoga, Tai Chi and dance make them feel more connected and loving toward their bodies. Try some classes to find something that resonates with you.
  • Talk to friends and loved ones what they enjoy most about you. I bet no one will mention anything related to your body– just your personality and nature. How we behave and interact with others is what makes us who we are, not the shape of our bodies.
  • Explore and appreciate your strengths. Everyone has individual strengths and talents. When we share them, we touch others and make the world a better place.
  • Be mindful of what your body can do, no matter what size it is. Write down all the things your body can do that bring you joy. Your legs carry you from place to place and up and down stairs. Your arms let you hug your loved ones or lift your child. Your stomach digests the food you eat, and your eyes allow you to see the world around you. Cherish these things as often as you can and remind yourself how fortunate you are to be alive.
  • Make a list of what you admire about your role models. I guarantee it’s what inside, not what you see on the outside.
  • Become media savvy. Understand that the pictures of models in magazines and on billboards are extremely enhanced. Stop reading fashion magazines if they bring up bad feelings. Instead, surround yourself with positive, realistic images.Research your own hobbies or create an “about me” board to flood yourself visually with “you” as the whole person.
  • Consider throwing away your scale. If you weigh yourself several times a day and it brings you down, get rid of the scale. Measure progress with healthy lifestyle changes by how clothing fits and how you feel. If you do use a scale, weigh yourself only once a week, at the same time of day each time, wearing the same clothes.

The road to a healthy body image can be a long one, especially if you have been struggling with a poor body image for years. However, by taking deliberate steps to stop the negative self-talk, it is entirely possible to be content–even happy–with the way you look, at any size.

Surround yourself with positive thoughts, friends, and images, you’ll be one step closer to a healthy mind/body connection.

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