Teaching Body Positivity to Children

So many times with love and in motherese, we have called our friends or siblings names like” FATSO”, “Motu”,” Patlu”, “Lambu”. While these names were given out of love and affection, they sort of stayed with us forever. Children are quick to notice how people judge others.

Physical appearances, such as body type, are commonly used to make judgments. Everywhere we go, beauty and body image are judged on a set of criteria: how slender, lean, fair, and lovely one is.  Teenagers mostly will be very disturbed may if none of the above factors accurately describes their ‘body type.’ It would be hard to live with a feeling of being average “average, if not ugly”. This is where the need of instilling in our children a sense of body positivity is critical.

Our country has a legacy and heritage or dark and dusky complexion. Even our gods are quoted as “SHYAM”.

The Indian skintone has never been very FAIR. Indians are largely known for their dusky complexion. However these days since birth or rather from conception we see mothers and family members being worried about the fair complexion of the babies. Slender is the new healthy. The leaner the body the better it is. Many people are literally starving and eating too little of their daily requirements to keep their body in shape. Mothers refrain their children from playing in the sun or sand fearing they may become dark. 

A large credit to such thinking goes to the media. Following the influencers or Bollywood artists, the youth is largely influenced and worried about their own body type. Half or incomplete knowledge is very dangerous. The youth especially try to imitate the influencers and try all resorts to improve their skin colour or body look. The cosmetic industry also tries to play upon these factors and try to play with the youth’s emotions.

So how can we promote a positive body image?  Here are a few strategies we can try:

  1. Be mindful towards our thinking

We’ve been socialized to believe that ‘dark is unwelcomed and fair is lovely.’ Let us not subject our children to the same conditioning. Children as young as eight years old are taught to judge beauty based on their skin tone, weight, and height. It is past time for us to work as a culture and as parents to change this. Let us not make the future generation conscious of their appearance, but rather of the kind of people they are.

  1. Slender and healthy are not synonymous

The child’s first instructor is his or her mother. It develops in the subconscious and vulnerable minds of our children when we say things like “I need to lose weight, I’ve become so heavy.” “Fat is awful and not lovely,” kids actually hear. It is critical for us to be aware of what we say as parents. It’s necessary to encourage youngsters to be healthy and strong, but it’s also crucial to use the appropriate technique and avoid adjectives like fat, skinny, dark, and bright. We can make a tremendous difference by taking little measures.

  1. Mindful vocabulary

When we are trying to promote positive body image in kids, it is imperative that we use the right words.

These are some small changes that can be embraced in our language. There can be a positive shift in the mindset thereby creating awareness about body positivity meaning in kids: 

  • Replace words like strong or weak instead of fat or thin
  • Encourage physical exercise to become strong and not thin.
  • When talking about getting tanned, tell kids about the sun’s rays burning and harming their skin instead of darkening their skin.
  • Avoid using nicknames based on body image
  • Junk food/too many desserts make them unhealthy or give them a stomach ache as opposed to making them fat
  • Compliment them by saying “you are beautiful” instead of “you look beautiful”. 
  • While talking about other people in front of kids make sure you use positive adjectives to describe them. Like you could say “the strong and tallboy/girl from your class” instead of “fat and big boy/girl.”
  • Avoid complimenting children on their looks too much. Over- complimenting can also make them very conscious. Balance is the key. 

These little steps can go a long way in helping kids have a strong body-positive image of them.

Let us teach children to appreciate their skin and bodies so much that no amount of superficial advertising or peer pressure will persuade them that fair skin and slim bodies will lead to a brighter future. Let us raise a generation that understands the importance of body positivity in the correct context.

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