Take this quiz to find out whether you are body positive. If you’re a parent, this is really important, because our feelings about our own bodies impact how our kids feel about theirs.
Eating disorders are much more complex than body image, but negative body image is a hallmark of an eating disorder. We live in a culture that is strongly weight-biased and fatphobic. Our cultural messages assert that a person is healthier, smarter, and more worthy if they live in a smaller body. Weight stigma is very harmful to all of us, but it is especially damaging to people who live in larger bodies and people who are susceptible to eating disorders.
Parents who want to prevent eating disorders or help a child who has an eating disorder to recover can learn about weight stigma and adopt a non-diet, weight-neutral, and body positive attitude.
Quiz: Are You Body Positive?
Most of us have assumptions about body size, eating behaviors and exercise patterns. To help our child develop a healthy body image and recover from an eating disorder, it can be very helpful if we challenge our own assumptions about bodies, weight, and health. Take this quiz to see how you do.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity is a trending hashtag, but it’s also so much more. It was started in 1967 as a movement to stop deadly weight stigma and anti-fatness. More than just “loving your body,” body positivity is a social justice, activist movement. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded in 1969 in an effort to bring awareness to the fact that bodies, especially fat bodies, are marginalized and abused in our culture. To be body positive is about accepting that most of what we think we know about fat is wrong, and that judging people for being fat is ignorant and harmful.
Body positive parenting
Our society is steeped in weight stigma. Many of us make body-based, weight-stigmatizing comments without even thinking of it – it’s just a part of our culture. But if a parent can learn to stop these automatic statements, we can help our child reduce the focus on the body as a signal of “goodness” and even “health” and instead help them recognize that they are inherently worthy, and fat is not the worst thing a person can be. This approach will reduce eating disorders since fatphobia is a known contributor.
Here are some things we recommend parents stop doing to create a body positive environment for their children:
1. Do not praise/criticize individual body parts
Look at those abs! She has a tummy roll. Your legs are so long. You have such a tiny waist. She has huge thighs.
We are not objects, but whole people. Avoid picking apart human beings based on their individual body parts. Don’t do this with your own body, your child’s body, or any other person’s body. Human beings are much more than any one part of themselves. While these comments may seem positive of “factual,” they bring the focus onto the body, and one of our goals is to develop a holistic view of health and bodies rather than a parts-based perspective.
2. Do not provide feedback on weight loss
You’ve lost weight! She lost a ton of weight last year. You look great – did you lose weight?
We need to stop assuming that weight loss is a positive thing that we can openly make comments about. It may seem normal to mention that someone has lost weight, but the assumption that weight loss is always a positive supports some of the fundamental disordered thoughts that drive eating disorders.
3. Do not provide feedback about “flattering” clothes
That’s so slimming on you. I look fat in this. That’s really flattering. That shirt makes her look huge. That belt makes her waist look tiny.
When we comment on clothing as either “flattering” or “not flattering,” what we are really saying is that everyone should aspire to look thin. This supports the notion that thinness is best, and fuels disordered eating. If you struggle to accept body positivity, then begin by not using the words “flattering” or “slimming.” Also avoid commenting on the physical appearance of yourself, your children, and other people.
4. Avoid feedback on eating and exercise behaviors
You’re so healthy for running every day. She’s such a good/healthy eater. She eats like a pig. He’s a total slob.
Our culture has promoted many unhealthy ideas about eating and physical behavior. Basically, we believe that people who are thin eat only “healthy” foods and exercise regularly. This is not actually true, and the only information we gain by looking at someone is our own level of weight bias. We need to stop praising “health” behaviors to help our children find an intuitive way to relate to their bodies that involve eating foods that make them feel good and exercising in ways that bring happiness, not pain.
Body positive resources
Body positive parenting can help our children avoid and/or recover from an eating disorder. It’s OK if this is all new to you – there are a lot of resources available to help! The first step in becoming body positive is dropping weight stigma. One of the best resources for doing this is reading Health at Every Size and/or Body Respect by Lindo Bacon. Also, check out The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. For a powerful and personal take on body positivity, read You Have the Right to Remain Fat, by Virgie Tovar.
When “body positive” is not body positive
Many brands and influencers have noticed that the term “body positive” has gained social traction. As a result, they are taking on the term as a marketing opportunity rather than truly understanding the purpose of the movement. Specifically, Instagram is littered with accounts that use the hashtag #bodypositive or one of its variations, but they still espouse diet culture and are decidedly not weight-neutral or fat-positive. Some signs to look for to establish whether a brand or influencer is truly body-positive include:
- Are the models/images primarily showing white, cisgender, able-bodied, Photoshop-enhanced, conventionally attractive, thin people? Body positivity is about inclusivity, so you should see a range of skin colors, gender identities, and body sizes, shapes, and abilities.
- If it’s a clothing brand, does the brand offer sizing above 12/14? About 60% of the population wears plus sizes, yet plus-size models are a rarity. If a brand says it is “body positive” but does not provide clothing for people living in larger bodies, then it’s co-opting the movement for marketing purposes.
- Does the text contain messages about weight loss and/or weight maintenance as if that is a good/positive/healthy pursuit? Body positivity must operate from a weight-neutral perspective.
- Does the messaging suggest that the pursuit of health is defined as eating a certain way or exercising? Body positivity must operate from a behavior-neutral standpoint and not place value judgments on food choices or exercise behaviors.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.
She’s the editor of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.