Body image is learned
We as parents often laugh at how quickly our children begin to mimic how we talk, how we scroll on a cell phone, and how we act when angry. Learning a healthy (or, unhealthy) body image is no different.
In an interview with Glamour, Kiana Shelton, LCSW and women’s health expert shared, “Children follow more of what we do than what we say, which is why not addressing dieting and/or limiting caloric intake, but still being obsessive about it while in the presence of your kids, can have even more of an impact on children than parents are aware of.” Even unintentionally, our moms can have an influence over our own body image.
“Let’s say a mother uses body-positive language around her daughter and does not impose restrictive eating on her,” Kara Lissy, LCSW, a psychotherapist, explains to Glamour. “Imagine that girl’s confusion when she later observes her mother checking her figure in the mirror obsessively, using derogatory language about her own body, and counting calories. The most important thing a mother can do for her daughter is to model high self-worth, though that can be an uphill battle against diet culture.”
Lissy continues, “Many neural pathways are formed during childhood and adolescence, and over time and with practice, these ways of thinking and behaviors become very engrained. Young women whose mothers planted the seeds for their eating disorders feel reinforced when they are complimented on their weight loss, and learn early on to attach value to the way that they look rather than the other wonderful qualities about them that have nothing to do with their weight or what they ate.”
How to encourage body positivity
Each and every one of us is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). He doesn’t make mistakes. And, our creative God doesn’t make us look all the same. Some are tall, while others are short. Many have a robust figure, while others are slim. We have different complexions, hair colors, and ear sizes. Thankfully, even retailers such as Maurices and Target have begun to feature more plus-sized clothing options and models in their mainline advertising.
Shelton offers, “There is still a lot of work to be done to unlearn lessons many of us have been conditioned to learn.” Begin by normalizing a healthy approach to food and activity. Thankfully, the current generation is refusing to take it from almond moms. Hopefully, a new pattern is emerging.
“Calling out fatphobia or toxic diet culture when you see it is so incredibly important,” Lissy concludes. “It is important for us as women to show up for each other, but it is also important to educate others on their wrongdoing.”
Thankfully, we’re beginning to stand up to body shaming and embracing true health.
If you or someone you love experiences symptoms of an eating disorder, please get help from someone who can help. Consider the National Eating Disorders Association, a professional therapist, or a trusted adult who will walk with you as you seek help (without shaming).