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Jamie Garvey

Jamie Garvey

How to Promote a Healthy Body Image For Your Child (& You!)

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By: Jamie Garvey, Psy.D., The South Bend Clinic

What do you remember about how your parents or guardians talked about their bodies? How did they talk about food? How much did they talk about diets, check their weight, or comment negatively about their bodies or appearance?
While unintentional and seemingly innocent, comments about your appearance, the appearance of others, and food can send messages to your little one and influence the development of their body image and relationship with food. Modeling is a form of social learning by copying or imitating someone else's behavior. Therefore, criticizing your body or making negative comments about the appearance of others may unintentionally send messages to your child about the importance of appearance or that certain body types are more desirable or "better" than others, which can lead to feelings of shame about one's body, the development of an unhealthy relationship with one's body and weight, and unhealthy eating and dieting behaviors.
Fortunately, we have the power to model a healthy body image and healthy relationship with food that will benefit you, as well as your child.  
Address Unrealistic Standards in the Media
Openly discuss and disavow the unrealistic expectations for beauty displayed in the media with your children. Challenge society's messages about the importance of appearance, the standards for "beauty," and the emphasis on thinness and muscularity. Highlight and call out how highly edited, and filtered images in the media are.
Celebrate Body Diversity
Expose your children to stories, images, and messages celebrating body diversity. Promote to your children that all bodies are different and all bodies are beautiful.
Avoid Critical Body Comments
Model for your child healthy and positive self-talk. Avoid the critical or judgmental language about your appearance, weight, and body, and avoid making comments about other people's bodies as well.  
Focus on Compliments that Go Beyond Appearance
Rather than commenting on appearance or weight, focus on positive self-talk beyond appearance. Celebrating a person's kindness, personality, humor, and effort is much more meaningful than a compliment about appearance. It helps convey that a person's worth is not based on their appearance.
Practice Body Gratitude
Expressing gratitude for what your body does for you daily helps promote a positive relationship with your body and shifts the focus away from the appearance. Celebrate your body for getting you through the day, allowing you to connect with friends, hugging family, petting your dog, dancing, singing, laughing, and more.
Avoid Labeling Foods
Avoid labeling foods as "good" or "bad", and "healthy or "unhealthy". Attaching moral labels of "good" and "bad" to foods can lead to feelings of guilt and shame around eating "bad" foods and lead to disordered eating. Food is food, and all foods fit.
Have Fun Moving Your Body Together
Celebrate your bodies by moving them in healthy, fun, and flexible ways! Incorporating fun and balanced movement that can be done together helps promote a positive relationship with exercise, builds your connection with your child, and builds healthy habits. Go for a jog, walk your dog, dance in the living room, go for a bike ride, play Twister, or join Girls on the Run!

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We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. Non-profit girl empowerment after-school program for girls.

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