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3 brutal truths about kids’ body image

Kids’ body image report: 4 brutal facts

I’m going to level with you: I didn’t like writing this article about the brutal truths about kids’ body image. As someone on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from body hate, it hurts my heart that this research indicates that our kids are definitely not free from body hate. 

From my perspective, two things are going on right now. First, we have high rates of dissatisfied body image in kids and the problems that arise from that, including eating disorders. Second, I see some progress in how our society treats bodies. We’re seeing more acceptance of the fat acceptance movement. And while the “body positive” movement is fairly problematic, it has expanded people’s ability to see beauty in a variety of body sizes.

Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls show is an example of a powerful shift in media. Her own performances on stage are athletic and powerful. And this show makes it clear that higher weight and fitness are not opposites.

Lizzo’s show is important because a significant driver of body image is the media. Our kids consume constant messages about bodies and so-called wellness programs, cleanses, weight-loss journeys, fitness challenges, and more. Engaging with media today almost always means learning dangerous beliefs and behaviors disguised as empowerment and self-care.

It’s not easy out there, but keep reading. Because at the end of the tough stuff I’m about to share, I’ll give you some ideas for how you can improve your child’s body image. There are a lot of things you can do, and you have the power to keep your child safe despite the fact that we live in a nasty societal soup of negative body image.

Here are three brutal truths about kids’ body image:

1. Most people have bad body image

All kids live with grownups, and that’s bad news for their body image. A Glamour magazine survey showed that 97% of women report having at least one negative thought about their body image every single day. Almost all women and about half of all men are dissatisfied with their body image.

In a 2019 survey of UK adults, one in five adults felt shame, 34% felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year. Around 35% of adults felt anxious and/or depressed about their body image. And 13% experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of their concerns about their body image. 

Many of these adults are parents, and body image issues tend to trickle down. A 2016 Journal of Pediatrics study found that more than half of children aged 9-14 years old were dissatisfied with their body shape. 

But of course, it’s not the parents’ fault. We live in a societal soup of body hate. Bodies are ridiculed, shamed, and discriminated against every day. 

Our kids’ doctors, teachers, coaches, friends, and extended family all teach them that bodies are something to be evaluated and judged. Add to that entertainment media like TV, movies, advertising, and video games, and harmful body image messages become inescapable. And that’s before social media, which is a known (and serious) contributor to poor body image.

2. Girls have bad body image

I think most people realize that girls are likely to have negative body image. After all, female bodies are constantly objectified, and the media, entertainment, beauty, and fashion industries endlessly promote very thin, white, and idealized female bodies. The pressure on the female body to be conventionally beautiful, thin, graceful, and “perfect” is intense. And the data shows that our girls feel this pressure.

  • 50% of 13-year-old U.S. girls and 80% of 17-year-old U.S. girls are unhappy with their bodies. [1]
  • 80% of teenage girls worry about becoming fat. [1]
  • 40-60% of elementary school girls are concerned about becoming “too fat.”[2]
  • 40-60% of girls reported feeling worried about their weight. [2]
  • 80% of teenage girls report fears of gaining weight and of being in a larger body. [1]
  • 36% of German girls felt fat, 22% were terrified of gaining weight, and 36% reported regularly feeling upset about their weight or shape. [3]
  • 50%  of Spanish girls expressed a desire for a thinner body, despite having a lower body weight. [4]

3. Boys also have bad body image

But it’s not only girls who suffer from bad body image. Boys are increasingly reporting negative body image. While girls almost always want to be thinner and conventionally beautiful, boys are just as likely to want to be more muscular and larger. In the past 10-20 years the highly-muscular male body has become increasingly idealized and objectified, driving boys and men to develop what’s called “bigorexia.” Boys increasingly use protein powders, special diets, extreme workouts, and sometimes steroids to pursue the ideal of a lean and muscular body.

  • 25% of U.S. boys were concerned about their muscularity and leanness and wished for toned and defined muscles. [5]
  • 17% of Australian boys were dissatisfied with their bodies. [6]
  • 3% of Australian teenage boys report body dysmorphic symptoms. [7]
  • 30% of U.S. teenage boys reported a desire to gain weight to be more muscular. [8]
  • 17% of U.S. teenage boys perceived themselves to be underweight, despite being of normal weight. [8]
  • Among Australian teenage boys, 12% met the criteria for an eating disorder characterized by marked body image disturbances. [8]
  • 20% of German boys felt fat, 15% were terrified of gaining weight, and 25% reported regularly feeling upset about weight or shape. [9]

What parents can do to improve kids’ body image

Parents have a significant impact on how kids feel about body image. We have the power to counteract the dangerous societal messages that teach kids to feel bad about themselves and strive for impossible body standards. Here are a few tips for parents who want to help kids have better body image: 

1. Respect your body

You are your child’s most important model. How you feel about and treat your body matters! Your body is not a project, and it’s not something that you need to control and dominate. The best science available shows that people who follow the principles of Intuitive Eating tend to have the greatest health. These principles include not trying to control for weight or achieve a specific weight or size. Learn to feed your body well, move it, rest it, and care for it with the dignity and respect it deserves. Your children are watching!

2. Respect other people’s bodies

Other people’s bodies are none of your business, and gossiping about them is wrong. Catch yourself when you’re tempted to comment on someone else’s body either positively or negatively. Focus instead on other qualities. If you hate someone, rather than focus on how fat they are, explore which character traits bother you, and talk about those. Their weight is not a character trait. If you love someone, rather than focus on how beautiful they are, find out what character traits draw you to them, and talk about those. Of course, you can point out neutral characteristics when necessary. Saying things like “she has long hair,” or “he’s very tall,” is not the same as making a character judgment based on someone’s weight. We should all know the difference and teach it to our kids.

3. Respect your child’s body

I know there is a ton of fear-mongering about kids’ bodies and weight out there. I get it. It’s scary to be a parent when it feels as if how we feed our kids is critically important to their health. The evidence shows that parents do influence lifelong health, but not in the way you think. A restricted diet, rigid exercise program, and worrying about their weight will not improve their relationship with their bodies. What does improve body image? Serve family meals daily and enjoy each other while eating. Serve a wide variety of foods, including fruits and veggies but also desserts and snacks. Be active and move your bodies as a family. Establish sleep schedules and keep them sacred (with age-appropriate modifications) all the way through high school. These actions will benefit your child’s lifelong health, regardless of their weight today or in the future because they are about respecting the body and treating it with love.

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4. Teach media literacy

Most adults do not believe they are influenced by the media, but the data shows otherwise. We are all deeply impacted by media portrayals of what it means to be good, successful, and loved in our society. And in the current media and social media environments, thin people are portrayed as all of those things, while fat people are portrayed as bad, unsuccessful, and unhappy. Actively teach your child about media literacy and the impact of media representation on what we believe. Home is where our kids consume most of their media, so it’s important to regulate media consumption and talk about it regularly. Don’t let your 8-year-old consume social media without supervision and limits. You can gradually reduce your limits as your child ages, but never stop talking about the influence of media on how we feel about ourselves and others.

5. Look out for signs of trouble

In our society, it is extremely hard to feel 100% positive about your body all the time. Your child will likely have negative body image moments, days, and possibly more. But keep an eye out for if your child’s body image is impacting their psychology and/or behavior. Don’t allow dieting or food restriction of any kind in your home, as dieting is a major indicator of and driver of poor body image. It’s also the most significant precursor to eating disorders. If you believe your child has a negative body image that is impacting them in a significant way, seek support from a non-diet mental health professional who is trained in body image issues.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

References

[1] Kearney Cooke, A., & Tieger, D. (2015). Body image disturbance and the development of eating disorders. In L. Smolak & M. D. Levine (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Eating Disorders (pp. 283-296). West Sussex, UK: Wiley

[2] Body Image, Second Edition: A Handbook of Science, Practice, and Prevention, Cash and Smolak, 2011

[3] Schuck, K., Munsch, S., & Schneider, S. (2018). Body image perceptions and symptoms of disturbed eating behavior among children and adolescents in Germany. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 

[4] del Mar Bibiloni, M., Pich, J., Pons, A., & Tur, J. A. (2013). Body image and eating patterns among adolescents. BMC public health, 13(1), 1-10

[5] Calzo JP, Masyn KE, Corliss HL, Scherer EA, Field AE, Austin SB. Patterns of body image concerns and disordered weight- and shape-related behaviors in heterosexual and sexual minority adolescent males. Dev Psychol. 2015;51(9):1216–25

[6] Mond J, Hall A, Bentley C, Harrison C, Gratwick-Sarll K, Lewis V. Eating-disordered behavior in adolescent boys: eating disorder examination questionnaire norms. Int J Ea t Disord. 2014;47(4):335–41

[7] Schneider, S. C., Mond, J., Turner, C. M., & Hudson, J. L. (2017). Subthreshold body dysmorphic disorder in adolescents: Prevalence and impact. Psychiatry research, 251, 125-130

[8] Nagata, J. M., Bibbins-Domingo, K., Garber, A. K., Griffiths, S., Vittinghoff, E., & Murray, S. B. (2019). Boys, bulk, and body ideals: Sex differences in weight-gain attempts among adolescents in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(4), 450-453

[9] Schuck, K., Munsch, S., & Schneider, S. (2018). Body image perceptions and symptoms of disturbed eating behavior among children and adolescents in Germany. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health

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How to talk about your daughter’s body

How to talk about your daughter’s body

Many parents wonder how they can talk about their daughter’s body without hurting her body image. I’ve come up with some guidelines for what to say and what not to say when you talk about your daughter’s body. I’ve also included the three things you should also be talking about that will impact your daughter’s body image and mental health. Combined, this advice will have a significant impact on how she feels about herself. 

What you can say about your daughter’s body

There are a lot of wonderful things you can say that will increase your daughter’s sense of worth and strength. But the fact is that female bodies are under tremendous pressure in our society. This means that when you talk about your daughter’s body you need to be aware of the social pressures on her body and adjust your comments accordingly. This will help her grow into a strong, resilient, and self-aware person.

Talk about what her body does

The majority of your comments about your daughter’s body should be related to what her body can do instead of what it looks like. For example, talk about how she uses her body to have fun, like turning cartwheels or running down a hill. Or you can talk about how she uses her body to get places and do things like walk to school, eat delicious food, and laugh with her friends. Her body is involved in all of those activities, and they have nothing to do with what her body looks like. When you talk about your daughter’s body you should spend most of your time focusing on her body’s incredible functionality. For example*:

  • Your legs were flying when you ran down that hill!
  • I’m really glad that you’re able to walk to school every day and that your body is able to get you where you want to go.
  • Aren’t you glad you have a tongue to taste this delicious ice cream?
  • Do your eyes see how delicious that pizza looks? I wonder if it tastes as good as it looks?

*My examples assume ability. Of course, not all bodies can do all things, and I acknowledge that.

Talk about how her body feels

It is a key skill for a woman to tune into whether she feels comfortable or uncomfortable, pleasure or discomfort. This is a skill that will keep her safe, healthy, and happy for life. You want her to be able to tune into her body’s signals and trust herself to make good choices. 

Therefore, try to avoid telling her what her body should feel and whether she is comfortable or uncomfortable. Instead, be curious about her experiences of comfort and discomfort. Here are some ways you can talk about her body’s comfort level and raise her self-awareness:

  • It looks like you feel uncomfortable in that shirt, is it itchy or scratchy?
  • Grandma’s hugs feel warm and cozy to me, how do they feel to you?
  • I’m sensing you might be cold, is that true?
  • Your body looks angry right now because your fists are clenched, is that true?
  • It seems like you’re feeling worried because you’re pacing around the room.
  • Would you like to hug Uncle Jeremy goodbye today?
  • You’re telling me your tummy is very full, which is uncomfortable. Let’s just rest here together for the next 20 minutes and see how you feel.

Talk about how she looks

There will be (hopefully many) moments when your daughter seems like she is the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s OK to think your daughter is beautiful! Beauty is something we find in nature every day. The important thing to notice is that natural beauty is never perfect. It also isn’t being marketed and sold to us. Unlike the beauty industry, which enforces harmful standards and extracts a hefty price, we don’t have to pay for nature, and it’s not selling us a solution to a manufactured problem. 

Look at your beautiful daughter as a part of nature. When you talk about your daughter’s beauty, you should feel deeply that she is 

beautiful inside and out …

with, not in spite of her flaws …

and she does not need* to do anything to make herself more beautiful.

*she may choose to do things like dress up, use makeup, etc., but those should be choices she’s making, not compulsions she’s performing to seek worthiness.

But sometimes it’s not a deep existential experience. You just want to give her a quick compliment and tell her she’s cute, adorable, or gorgeous. Maybe she looks great in that color, or her eyes are sparkling today. That’s OK, too! Just keep these compliments short and sweet. Avoid making them the main way you share your admiration of who she is.

What you should not say about your daughter’s body

Unfortunately there are some major landmines when it comes to talking about your daughter’s body. You should avoid talking about the following things:

Don’t talk about what she weighs

Body weight should be a neutral number, like height or shoe size. But of course that’s not the case. Decades of intense marketing and advertising have taught us that the higher a woman’s weight, the less attractive and worthy she is. This is appalling, but it’s the society we live in. 

Therefore, I typically advise parents to not talk about weight in any way unless they have been specifically coached in anti-diet, weight-neutral practices. This is because all of us need significant un-training in order to talk about her weight without stigma and shame.

Read more: Weight Stigma and Your Child: What Parents Need to Know

Don’t talk about how she compares

Women are taught to compare body parts, outfits, and all aspects of their appearance to other women. They are taught there is a scarcity of love and worthiness that can only be attained through “winning” at beauty standards. Your daughter deserves to grow up knowing that she is worthy exactly as she is, and that she does not need to compete against others to earn your (or anyone’s) love.

Don’t compare your daughter’s body, beauty, weight, or appearance (positive or negative), to anyone else. Show your daughter that her body’s weight and appearance have nothing to do with her value by never comparing her body to another’s body.

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Don’t talk about what she’s wearing

Your daughter will wear clothes that you don’t like. Think very, very carefully about what you say about those clothes. Because her body should, first and foremost, belong to her (not you or anyone else). That means that what she puts on her body should almost always be up to her.

If you feel compelled to comment on what she’s wearing, take a breath. Think deeply about whether your comments about what she is wearing are necessary or helpful. Are they kind? Do they respect her as the sovereign ruler of her own body?

If you truly believe her clothes are “inappropriate” (look out for fatphobia and rigid gender norms here), you can make a simple statement. Say something like “I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time with that outfit. I need to think about why it’s hard for me in order to give you a good explanation, but right now I’m not comfortable with you wearing that to school.” 

Only use this statement rarely. Trust that she will find her own path. Support her in wearing clothes that feel authentic to her unique self, not your vision of what you wish she would look like. Remember that fashion crimes are not criminal, and bodily autonomy is a basic human right.

Read more: You’re Wearing That?

The foundation of self-acceptance

The dos and don’ts of body talk are important. But it’s also important to build a foundation of body acceptance. Here are three essential steps to raising a daughter who doesn’t hate her body:

1. Watch how you talk about your body and other bodies 

Think carefully about how you talk about your own body and other people’s bodies. Our kids learn from what we do more than what we say. So if you are criticizing your own body or talking negatively about other people’s bodies, that’s a problem. 

Rigid and ridiculous beauty standards are fatphobic, sexist, and damaging to mental health. Eating disorders are skyrocketing, and anxiety and depression about weight and appearance are a major problem. Girls and women experience both at much higher rates than boys and men, making this an important thing to think about if you have a daughter.

Here are common things you might be tempted to say about your body that you should stop saying:

  • I can’t wear that (subtext: it’s not flattering/I’m too fat)
  • No way could I eat that (subtext: it will make me gain weight)
  • I can’t leave the house without makeup (subtext: my natural face is unacceptable)
  • If I eat that I would have to spend the rest of the day in the gym (subtext: eating food requires compensatory behavior)

Here are common things you may be saying about other people’s bodies that you should stop saying:

  • She looks amazing now! (subtext: because she lost weight/is thin)
  • That person just doesn’t look healthy (subtext: they are fat and fat is bad)
  • She’s let herself go (subtext: she’s gained weight and that’s bad)
  • How can she leave the house like that? (subtext: she’s not meeting societal beauty standards and she should)

Remember that even very young children (toddlers!) will pick up the subtext. It’s impossible to live in our society and not translate technically benign statements into fat-shaming and body-shaming. Your daughter is watching and listening to you all the time. For the sake of her long-term health, work on your own body image and weight stigma, and release outdated gender norms.

2. Build media literacy

Our society is cruel to bodies. Parents need to counterbalance this cruelty by teaching media literacy. These conversations need to happen early and often.

Sexism, fatphobia, and objectification are a significant part of our media landscape, and if you aren’t talking about this, your child is picking up messages about beauty and how women are valued without your consent or input. You don’t need to raise your child in a bubble, but you do need to actively counter-educate her about how the media influences what we think and believe.

At a minimum, you should talk to your daughter often about these concepts: 

  • Almost all advertisements, TV shows, movies, and social media posts involve heavy editing and filters. Even if they don’t use filters, the person has likely spent hours perfecting their hair, makeup, and outfit, getting the right pose, and setting up professional lighting, etc. What you see on the screen almost never represents what a person looks like in real life.
  • Bodies, particularly women’s bodies are often used as sales tools. For example, an apartment building may use a photo of a woman in a bikini to advertise their apartments. This advertisement may appear next to another one featuring a man who is wearing a suit and tie. We need to ask questions about this. For example: why is the man wearing clothing but the woman is wearing almost none? Also notice that many times women’s bodies appear without their heads or even as individual body parts in order to sell products. This depersonalizes the female body and treats it as an object and a sales tool.
  • Just because someone on social media or TV says something is true does not mean it is true. Many times the person is speaking from personal experience, but that experience cannot be extended to you. Additionally, a lot of times the person is being paid or is hoping to be compensated when they promote products or services.
  • If something on social media or TV sounds too good to be true or promises a quick, easy fix, then it’s probably not true. Most things in life are full of nuance and complexity.
  • Pay attention to diversity – or lack thereof. If everyone you see in the media is white, thin, heterosexual and cisgender, then adjust your media consumption, or at least talk about the problem.
  • Advertisements are successful when they create a problem that the product can solve. Therefore, media messages about “problems” are made up by advertising agencies. For example, wrinkles, weight, cellulite, and skin color are largely genetically predetermined. We have very little control over these features. The products designed to “solve” the so-called problems are neither necessary nor do they work as promised.

3. Talk about her other qualities 

Spend the bulk of your time talking about your daughter’s non-body qualities. This is really important, because the problem is not talking about your daughter’s body, but rather talking about her body at the exclusion of her other qualities. Her body is a part of her, but she should not believe that her value and worth are based on her appearance.

In general, you should spend the majority of your time focusing on her non-body-based qualities. Body and appearance comments should be the small minority of what you talk to your daughter about.

Instead of focusing on your daughter’s body, talk about her:

  • Creativity
  • Sense of humor
  • Kindness
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Attention to detail
  • Mental flexibility
  • Courage
  • Friendliness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Dependability
  • Grit
  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • Curiosity
  • Dedication
  • Adventurousness
  • Daring
  • Warmth
  • Loyalty
  • Open-mindedness

When you talk about these qualities, praise her for her behaviors, not the outcomes. This has been demonstrated in the research around the “Growth Mindset,” which is that focusing on outcomes can raise a perfectionistic, rigid mentality. Outcome-based praise can also be de-motivating and spoil the joy of trying new things. Here are a few examples:

BehaviorOutcome
It’s really great that you put so much effort into your school project.I’m proud of you for getting good grades.
I love that you’re putting so much creativity into your role in the play.You’re the star of the show!
You were very brave to try out for the softball team.You making the softball team is very important to me.

As with appearance, of course you can sometimes mention outcomes, but be sure that the majority of your praise is about the behaviors you admire. 

Finally, if your daughter is calling herself names or being cruel to her body, here’s an article to help: What to do when your tween says they’re “fat” and other tricky situations.

Navigating body image is difficult, but following these steps should help you raise a strong, confident person!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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What to do when your tween says they’re “fat” and other tricky situations

What to do when your tween says they’re “fat” and other tricky situations

It’s not uncommon for a tween to say they’re “fat” or otherwise struggle with their body image.

This is an understandable but devastating side effect of living in our culture. One study found that nearly half of girls aged 3-6 years old are afraid of being fat. It only gets worse as they get older unless parents actively intervene.

Our society is deeply fatphobic. Our kids are not immune.

Parents need to help kids, particularly those who are larger, live in their bodies safely and without shame. Here are my eight tips for parents facing tricky body image situations. 

This advice helps when treating eating disorders, preventing eating disorders, and preventing a broad array of mental health issues.

1. Don’t tell them it’s just baby fat/they’re not fat, etc.

When your tween says they’re “fat,” your first response may be to try and convince them they are not. But that’s not the best approach.

Don’t say that they will grow out of it. And don’t insist that they are not fat, they are beautiful.

These statements can make a child feel even more ashamed of their body. And it also opens the door for your child to perpetuate anti-fat bias in the world.

Teach them to be a good friend to themselves and a good citizen at the same time by acknowledging anti-fat bias and teaching them how to talk about bodies with dignity and respect. 

Don’t say anything that suggests that fat is bad and something to get over and/or be ashamed of. 

Instead, talk about what it means to live in a larger body in our society. Help them understand that we are more than bodies. Give them the tools to live in the body they have.

Read more: How to protect your daughter from diet culture and fatphobia

2. Find out the feelings behind the word “fat”

Fat can be a neutral descriptor, but it can also be a way to be cruel to ourselves.

Teach kids that it’s not OK for them to be rude to themselves or use the word “fat” as a stand-in for negative feelings. 

Often when kids call themselves “fat” in a negative way, it means they are struggling with negative feelings. Ask questions.

Find out what “fat” means to them. Help them find the feeling words that fit.

In our society a tween who calls themself “fat” often means they feel sad, lonely, or rejected. 

Seek to understand and validate the feelings without trying to convince your child that they are already thin enough. The more we deny their experience, the deeper it will dig into their psyche. 

Read more: What to do when your tween daughter calls herself fat

3. Teach them about weight stigma and fatphobia

Bodies are a social justice issue. Body politics are filled with racism, sexism, and sizeism. Parents need to recognize that weight discrimination is harmful just like other forms of discrimination. Parents need to become social justice warriors who are willing to fight back against our culture of body hate.

We can build a kinder world for our children (and everyone), but it’s not going to happen without effort. 

Teaching kids about weight stigma and fatphobia is protective and will help you raise a kinder human. Bodies are beautiful, unique, and healthiest when treated with dignity.

We need our kids to recognize that trying to control bodies or judging people for their bodies is harmful and unacceptable.

All bodies deserve dignity. Help your child know this deep in their bones.

Read more: Weight stigma and your child

4. Work on your own food and body issues

Your own body and food issues will trickle down to your child. Our kids are finely attuned to how we feel, so we have to work on ourselves to help them grow up strong and healthy.

I’m not blaming you here. We have all grown up in a toxic culture that treats bodies as objects to be controlled and criticized. But when you have a child, it’s time to dig deeper and uncover your own food and body issues.

If you are dieting or otherwise controlling your weight, it’s time to stop. I know this is revolutionary, but we need to heal ourselves so we can help our kids thrive.

Please get support if you don’t know how to live without your bathroom scale and food plans. A therapist, dietitian, or coach can help you learn to practice Intuitive Eating and find peace with your body.

Read more: Get off the diet cycle and raise healthier kids

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5. Teach them to accept their bodies (and never diet)

Trying to change our body size and shape doesn’t work, and dieting increases the risk of an eating disorder by up to 15x. 

To prevent eating disorders and other serious mental health issues, I encourage parents to commit to the goal of helping kids never, ever, diet. 

This means we need to help them accept their weight, whatever it is. This is counter-culture, so we need to constantly remind our kids that body acceptance is the best path to health.

You may feel proud of a child who says they want to “eat healthier,” but this is the modern-day code for dieting. Instead, teach your child to listen to and trust their body instead of following external rules and goals. 

Of course, you can stock and serve fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. But serve them alongside carbs, fats, cookies, chips, and other great foods. 

All foods fit in a healthy lifestyle. And the more you support a nuanced, gentle approach to bodies, the healthier your child will be.

Read more: The science to support a non-diet, weight-neutral approach

6. Help them manage peer teasing (and bullying)

It sucks, but kids are cruel to other kids’ bodies. If you have a child who is larger, they will likely experience discrimination and teasing. But even smaller kids may experience cruel body-based taunting and jeers. 

It’s not fair, but don’t make it worse by ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t happen.

Teach your child to be confident and assertive about their body. Give your child some possible responses to fatphobic jokes, and support them in standing up for themselves and others. 

This is not unlike anti-racism work, where it’s very important to prepare kids to not be passive bystanders when they witness body-based teasing and bullying. All kids should be given the tools to be “upstanders” when it comes to body-based teasing and bullying.

Make it easy for your child to report body-based teasing and bullying to you. And be prepared to speak with your school’s administration when it inevitably happens. This is an under-reported aspect of bullying, so don’t hesitate to say something!

Read more: Help your child deal with body shaming

7. Teach them to respond to adults who say “watch your weight” and “eat healthy”

Kids know that “watch your weight” and “eat healthy” is code for “your body and appetite are unacceptable.” Teach them that these comments are common, but they may hurt your child’s feelings, and you understand why.

Empower your child to politely but assertively respond to these adults. A simple “I’m good, thanks,” can work well. They can also say “please don’t talk about my body/weight/food.” 

Some adults may become offended, but that’s just because they haven’t thought about how harmful their comments about weight and food can be. There’s nothing inappropriate about your child setting boundaries about what adults say to them about their body and food.

Read more: Don’t talk about my child’s weight

Read more: Opt-out of school weight programs

8. Work harder to find age-appropriate, comfortable clothing

If you have a child in a larger body, you’ll need to work a little harder to help them have fun with fashion. Larger kids need a little extra effort and attention because the clothing industry does not recognize size diversity. 

Do your research and make sure that stores carry their size before you take them shopping. 

Remind them that the problem is never their body, it’s the sizeist fashion industry. And when things don’t fit, teach them to blame the clothes, not their body. 

Read more: How to shop for clothes when your daughter wears plus size

It’s sadly normal

It’s sadly normal for kids to feel bad about their bodies in our culture. It’s not uncommon for a tween to say they’re “fat” or otherwise struggle with their body image.

The best thing parents can do is be prepared and proactive rather than reactive when it comes to body image issues.

And if your tween does say they’re “fat” or are otherwise distressed about their body, respond with compassion and understanding rather than trying to dismiss their feelings.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to talk about body image with kids

How to talk about body image with kids

Sadly, negative body image is increasingly common in kids, and at younger ages, so we need to talk about it. We live in a body-conscious society that is cruel to bodies, especially if they don’t fit a rigid belief about what it means to be healthy. This of course has a terrible impact on kids in larger bodies. And a shocking number of kids of all sizes live in constant fear of “getting fat” and believe they are “bad” when they gain weight. 

Kids have immature reasoning skills, and the fear of getting fat (which in our culture equals being “bad”) can quickly snowball into dangerous dieting and eating disorder behaviors. 

While I don’t think our kids can avoid bad body thoughts entirely in our society, they can avoid developing a negative body image if we take careful steps to help them recognize that having worries, thoughts, and fears about their bodies and fat don’t mean they have to change their bodies and behaviors. Parents can help kids feel OK in a culture that constantly tells them they are not. 

What is unhealthy body image?

An unhealthy body image means that you feel bad about your body and the way it looks. Since bodies are such an important part of how others perceive us, most people who have negative body image also have a negative sense of self. Negative body image is associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, all of which are associated with low self-worth.

Here are some heartbreaking facts about body image from a report published by the Common Sense Media Group:

  • More than half of girls and approximately a third of boys age 6-8 say their ideal body is smaller than their actual body.
  • Between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders among children under the age of 12 spiked 119%.
  • By age 6, children are aware of dieting and may have tried it.
  • 26% of 5-year-olds recommend dieting as a solution for a person who has gained weight.
  • By the time they’re 7 years old, 25% of children have engaged in some kind of dieting behavior.
  • 80% of teenage girls compare themselves to images they see of celebrities and, of that group, nearly half say the images make them feel dissatisfied with the way they look.

Why do kids develop body image issues?

There’s no single reason kids develop bad body image, but we don’t need to look far to see many influences, including:

  • Parents and other adult family members who talk about the virtues of being thin, attractive, and “healthy” which is often a code word for “not fat”
  • Siblings, cousins, and peers who tease and bully larger kids and/or diet and exercise to lose weight
  • Schools that weigh students and promote calorie counting programs
  • Coaches and sports programs that conduct weigh-ins and assign tight-fitting, body-conscious uniforms
  • Doctors who discuss weight as a problem in front of children during pediatric visits
  • Media, ranging from billboards and magazines at the supermarket checkout to movies and social media that objectify bodies and promote a narrow body ideal

The seeds of bad body image are literally everywhere in our culture. Sadly, we cannot protect our kids from many of the negative messages about bodies. But we can counteract them by talking about body image and upholding strong boundaries at home. 

How can I help my child with body image issues? 

Parents have a lot of influence over a child’s body image. We can’t protect them from the vast cultural forces of weight stigma and diet culture. But we can set boundaries and have difficult conversations in our own homes to reduce the chances of our kids developing poor body image. 

Here are 4 steps that will help your child’s body image:

1. Work on your own body image 

You do not need to have a perfect body image in order to raise a body-confident child. But you do need to be actively exploring your own body image and how you relate and respond to weight stigma and diet culture. Almost all adults have internalized fear of fat and assumptions about what makes a body “healthy.” We’ve also made assumptions about what we need to do to be “healthy.” Many of these assumptions are false. Make sure you are exploring your faulty beliefs and repairing your relationship with your own body throughout your parenting journey.

2. Talk about bodies with respect

One of the big issues we have is that bodies are treated disrespectfully. All human beings, and therefore all bodies, deserve dignity and respect no matter what they look like. This applies to fat bodies, thin bodies, and every shape and size body. Dignity and respect for our shared humanity must be a core value in your home if you want to protect your child from bad body image. Have a zero-tolerance policy for body-shaming, fat-shaming, and health-shaming. All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies deserve respect!

3. Talk about the objectification of bodies to sell things

Bodies, particularly women’s bodies, are frequently objectified and used to sell products. In my neighborhood, we have a billboard promoting condominiums that features a headless woman in a bikini. Her faceless body is being used to sell housing.

This is just one of the millions of examples of bodies being used to sell products. The endless objectification of bodies solidifies in our kids’ immature minds the idea that bodies are objects to be manipulated and controlled rather than part of who we are as human beings – unique and deserving of dignity.

Given the ubiquity of body objectification in advertising, marketing, and media, it’s critical that you have constant conversations about body objectification. You need to consciously point out that marketers use bodies, but you perceive them as living, breathing, and essential to our humanity.

4. Tell them that their bodies will constantly change and grow

Body types are often presented as an end-state, a goal, something to achieve. But bodies are never in a steady state. Girls’ bodies change dramatically, and puberty sometimes begins as young as 8-9 years old. At this age, girls are not able to process their complex feelings about their bodies without careful and thoughtful guidance from parents.

Growth requires weight gain, and a child spends their first 18 years undergoing dramatic changes and substantial weight gain. Bodies continue to change throughout our lives. This makes sense: bodies are supposed to change! I think we forget this because we see perfectly-preserved models in the media all the time, but the average body will go through many changes throughout life. Let your kids know that their bodies are not meant to stay the same – they will continuously change, and that is healthy! 

What do you say to a child with body image issues? 

First, please make sure that you are talking about body image regularly. Don’t wait for your child to bring it up. Instead, talk regularly about body respect and maintain high standards for treating and talking about bodies as worthy of dignity, no matter what they look like.

If your child says something that indicates they have a negative body image, the most important thing is to not dismiss their feelings or try to distract them from having them. When parents avoid kids’ difficult feelings, kids internalize shame and anxiety about what is being avoided. They believe that there is something terribly wrong with them even though that’s not what parents intended. 

Whatever you do, don’t avoid, dismiss, or distract your child from body image issues. 

Your child will probably at some point tell you they hate their body or want to change their body with dieting or exercise. Here’s a simple response that you can use in almost any situation: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time right now, and that makes sense to me. Can you tell me more about what’s going on?”

Now listen and seek to really understand your child’s fears and worries. Don’t tell them they’re wrong or that their body is perfect or beautiful. Let them explore their feelings in your loving empathy (not pity). 

Keep listening!

Keep listening until your child has expressed themself and you sense that they feel deeply understood by you. Then you may want to say something like this: 

“Honey, I know it’s so hard to live in a body in our culture. There’s a lot of pressure on bodies to look a certain way. I just want you to know that I really do understand that, but at the same time, I want you to remember that your body deserves respect and love. So when bad feelings, worries, and thoughts come up, that makes sense. But let’s never make decisions about how you treat your body based on those feelings and thoughts. Your body is good just as it is. You don’t need to mess with it or try to change it. You will have bad thoughts sometimes. Please remember this always: You’re wonderful just as you are.”

How to talk to your child about body image

Ignoring body size is like trying to avoid talking about race. Adults may pretend that it doesn’t matter, but children always sense the truth, which is that how we look influences how other people treat us.

It’s best to talk about body image regularly and without euphemism, because when we don’t talk about important things, kids assume there is something bad and shameful going on. Shame, more than anything else, is a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of mental disorders.

Talk about body image!

The bottom line is to talk about body image with your child regularly. You can do this by saying things like: 

  • Bodies are presented and used in the media to sell products, but bodies are not objects – they are a vital and unique part of each person.
  • I appreciate how my body functions for me and I respect my body by treating it well and speaking about it with kindness.
  • All bodies grow and change. And while it can be confusing, it’s all healthy and normal.
  • In our family we will always speak with dignity and respect about bodies. We will not allow body shaming, fat shaming, or bullying of anyone based on their body.
  • Having negative thoughts, feelings, and worries about your body is normal, but we shouldn’t make decisions about our health based on them. Bodies should always be treated with respect and dignity.
  • Each body is important and amazing, but also everyone is much more than a body.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to protect your daughter from diet culture and fatphobia

How to protect your daughter from diet culture and fatphobia

If you have a daughter, then you can and should protect her from fatphobia and diet culture. While this isn’t one of the things most of us think about when we have a child, it has become critically important as body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders are on the rise. 

Women in our society are constantly told to control their hunger and weigh less. Diet culture indoctrination begins early in a girl’s life. As a result, most kindergarten girls will tell you they don’t want to be fat because being fat is bad. They already believe that the path to not being fat and bad is to eat less and exercise more. 

All of this pressure and noise about women’s bodies begins early in our daughters’ lives. Over time it flourishes and often blossoms into body hate, disordered eating, and, sometimes, eating disorders. 

But you can protect your daughter from diet culture and fatphobia. You can help her respect her body and live a healthy life. Here are five steps to doing it:

1. Educate yourself

Begin by learning about weight stigma and weight cycling. These are the major problems associated with diet culture and fatphobia and are therefore a key way to protect your daughter from them.

Weight stigma is discrimination against fat people and being fat. It’s closely aligned with racism, classism, and sexism. When internalized, it turns into body hate – the belief that your body (and by extension you yourself) is bad if you have fat.

Weight cycling is the only predictable outcome of intentional weight loss. While the $70 billion diet industry sells the promise of lasting weight loss, the truth is that while many people can lose weight initially when dieting, 95% gain it back (often more) 2-5 years later. This cycle of losing and gaining weight is predictive of two things: poor health and weight gain. 

That right: each time a person intentionally loses weight, we can reasonably predict they will end up weighing more 5 years later. And the act of intentionally losing weight puts additional stress hormones into the body and may permanently impact metabolism. This is just the beginning of the long-term health implications of weight cycling. 

The most surprising fact about dieting is that intentional weight loss is predictive of weight gain. And while I’m not anti-fat, if that knowledge helps you give up dieting for good, we can start there. 

Take some time to learn about the truth about intentional weight loss, and once you’re ready, start educating your kids. This is a great way to protect our daughters from diet culture. Teach them: 

  1. Diet culture is rooted in discrimination, racism, classism, and sexism
  1. Dieting is not actually healthy for our bodies, and in fact predicts weight gain
  1. The $70 billion diet industry creates and profits off body dissatisfaction and weight stigma

Our children deserve to know the truth about diet culture and weight stigma, and it’s unlikely they’ll learn it out in the wild. This is something that needs to come from you.

2. A body-positive household

Most households are living with some form of weight stigma and/or diet culture. Maybe you actively diet every January. Or maybe you are naturally thin but constantly talk about your aunt, who is naturally fat, as someone who needs to “take care of herself,” by which you mean “lose weight.” 

There are so many ways that we accidentally promote weight stigma and diet culture in our homes, and I’m not here to criticize you for doing any of these very normal things in the past. Truly. I get it. I lived it! 

But I am asking you to give it up now that you know better. Here are the beliefs that a body-positive household adheres to: 

1. Nobody should be criticized or shamed for their body at any weight.

2. You can take good care of your health without focusing on weight as an outcome or result.

3. Health includes physical, mental, social, and emotional factors. It cannot be determined or measured by weight.

4. There is no body size that deserves more or less respect. All bodies deserve respect at any weight.

A body-positive household will protect your daughter against diet culture because she will live in a pro-body environment rather than an environment that shames and criticizes bodies. At the heart of body positivity is dignity. All human beings deserve the dignity of living in their bodies without criticism or judgment.

3. An anti-diet approach

Once you know all of this, the next step is to institute an anti-diet policy at home. This means that barring any medical restrictions for medically-diagnosed allergies or diseases, nobody should be restricting food. This includes all forms of food restriction and banning foods for any reason other than that you don’t like them.

This is a revolutionary way to live and can be scary for anyone who has been following diet rules for most of their lives (e.g. most of us!). My greatest assurance for you is that following an anti-diet lifestyle will give you and your children greater freedom and better health – both physical and mental. 

An anti-diet lifestyle is also protective against eating disorders and disordered eating. One study found that girls are up to 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder if they diet. And girls are more likely to diet if they live in a home in which dieting is modeled and permitted. That fact alone should be enough to encourage you to implement a no-diet rule in your home. 

Hundreds of studies have found that Intuitive Eating, which is a way of eating that is responsive to hunger and appetite, is healthier than any type of diet. It may surprise you to know that weight-loss diets do not improve cardiovascular fitness long-term, but Intuitive Eating does.

The important thing is that nobody in the home should be actively trying to control, manage, or lose weight. It is important to get rid of household scales and any other tools that are used for the purpose of weight management. This can be a huge adjustment, so it may help to work with a Registered Dietitian to help you get started. 

4. Dealing with society: 

The previous three recommendations are things that you can control in your household. And they are a great place to start. But your daughter will go out in the world and encounter diet culture everywhere. Here are some common places she’ll see it and ways you can respond to protect her from negative consequences:

Social Media

Social media is filled with diet culture. While it’s often not possible to shield our daughters from diet culture on social media, we can minimize its harmful impacts by living a body-positive, anti-diet lifestyle at home. But to take it even further, make sure you talk openly about the issues with social media

In my experience, it’s best to try and take a balanced approach rather than criticize such an important aspect of her life. For example, you can say things like “I love that on TikTok you can learn so many dances, and I only wish we could see more body diversity in the dancers.” Then let her respond. She may point out that she follows several dancers who are in larger bodies. Or she may just huff and stomp away. But you can trust that just mentioning body diversity will remind her to actively seek body diversity on social media.

Criticizing social media rarely works well. It is a power move that can have negative consequences. Instead, try to open up conversations and put safety measures in place such as time limits on apps. But the best thing you can do is engage in ongoing discussions about the pros and cons of social media. 

Movies/TV/Radio

Movies, TV shows, and even random comments on the radio are often fatphobic. Once you start looking for fatphobia and diet culture, you’ll start to see it everywhere. My suggestion is to point out fatphobic comments as they happen. 

For example, if a TV show has a character that suggests someone “needs to eat fewer brownies” (because they’re fat), then I suggest you immediately say “Oh no, so fatphobic. Knock it off!” to the character on the screen. Your kids may look at you strangely, but that’s better than allowing fatphobia in your home without objection.

If a radio host mentions it’s time to get back to the gym and work off some extra pounds, you can say “that’s not how it works, buddy.” These light but direct comments help your daughter start to see the fatphobia that surrounds us and make sure that you are exposing it when it happens. The best response is when she asks for an explanation from you.

Magazine Covers/Billboards

While few teens get magazines delivered anymore, they will still see fatphobic magazine covers, particularly in the grocery store checkout line. There may also be billboard advertisements and bus stop ads for weight loss, fat-removal surgery, and more. These forms of constant exposure to fatphobia and diet culture are subtle but have a big impact.

I suggest you point them out as fatphobic and wrong. You rarely need to get into long discussions, but be ready to do so if you think your daughter wants to talk some more about a disturbing message or image she’s been exposed to. It’s best to keep the door open on these conversations so she feels safe coming to you with questions.

Remember that the thing you can control here is what you say and how you respond. Your daughter does not have to agree with you or discuss this deeply with you for your words to have an impact. Focus on your presentation more than her response to it.

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Dealing with school:

Whether it’s from a teacher, peer, or coach, fatphobia runs rampant in most schools. Your daughter will most likely encounter diet culture at school, and you want to protect her from that. Here are some common places she’ll experience it and ways you can respond to avoid negative consequences.

Health Class

I frequently hear from parents who believe that a health class was a trigger for their daughter’s eating disorder. This is deeply distressing but not surprising given that we live in a society that has mistakenly aligned low weight, food restriction, and over-exercise with health. 

It’s best to assume that any health classes provided at your daughter’s school will include some version of diet culture. The most common things I hear about are education about “good” and “bad” foods, introducing calorie counters, step counters, and other tools, and misinformation about fat being the “cause” of disease. 

I suggest you prepare your daughter for this misinformation in advance and talk about it at home often. Don’t allow health class to go unchallenged, no matter how well-meaning the teacher is. 

Additionally, if you feel up for it, talk to your school administration about the dangers of teaching children to diet, a known cause of weight cycling and a major factor in the development of eating disorders.

Peers

Because our culture is full of dieting and fatphobia, it’s likely that your daughter’s peers will be dieting and fatphobic. This is not about them being individually wrong or bad. Fatphobia and dieting make sense in our culture. Because of this, we never want to blame the individual, and instead recognize the societal forces at play.

I recommend talking to your daughter often about diet culture and fatphobia and helping her problem-solve and brainstorm ways to respond when they show up among peers. Your daughter does not have to be a social justice warrior who confronts diet culture and fatphobia at school. But it will help if she has some responses in her mind at least to keep herself safe and centered when it happens around her.

Conversations with peers about fatphobia and diet culture are nuanced and challenging. Support your daughter in finding her own path rather than telling her what she “should” do. It’s much more effective to guide her in finding her own response.

Coaches/Teachers

We know that coaches and teachers are part of our society and therefore often suffer from fatphobia and diet culture. This is understandable and makes sense. However, when fatphobia and diet culture is actively taught to our daughters, it may be necessary to speak up.

As always, your first line of defense is a good offense. Arm your daughter with the knowledge and strength to recognize diet culture and fatphobia and counteract it, at least in her own mind. Maintaining a body-positive, anti-diet household will go a long way to protecting her from the worst offenders. 

Approach conversations about teachers and coaches with an open mind and heart. You don’t want to condone fatphobic behavior, but be careful not to overreact when your daughter tells you about it. Because overreacting can lead your daughter to get defensive on behalf of a coach or teacher who she may respect and like. Let your daughter lead the conversation and do more listening than talking.

However, if you feel a coach or teacher is teaching dangerous concepts to students, you may want to speak with them directly or talk to the administration. For example, if a coach is doing weigh-ins and openly shaming girls who have gained weight, that’s something that should be addressed. Likewise, if a teacher begins a calorie-restriction project in class, you should speak up.


Living in a society that is cruel and dominating towards female bodies is hard. And it’s difficult to raise a body-confident girl in this culture. But it is possible. You can raise a daughter who is free from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders if you protect her from the worst impacts of diet culture and fatphobia. Good luck out there!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to talk about food and body issues with your child

How to talk about food and body issues with your child

Talking about food and body issues can seem loaded. Many parents simply don’t know what to say so they avoid saying anything. Other parents feel uncomfortable with the subject and want to change their kids’ minds about food and body issues as quickly as possible. This can leave the child feel unconnected and unheard.

So what is the solution? How can we talk to a child who is struggling with food and body issues? The answer is active listening, a well-known communication technique used around the world to connect people. 

Definition: Active Listening

“Active listening is a technique of careful listening and observation of non-verbal cues, with feedback in the form of accurate paraphrasing, that is used in counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts. Active Listening requires the listener to pay attention, understand, respond and remember what is being said in the context of intonation, timing, and non-verbal cues (body language).” Wikipedia

Here are the main ways I think about active listening when it comes to food and body issues:

  1. Listen carefully for the feelings underneath the words: is your child asserting independence and autonomy? Seeking validation? Wanting attention? These are all good reasons for our kids to reach out to us!
  2. Avoid giving advice or opinions: be very careful about jumping in with advice or your opinion. This will often shut down the conversation, lead to defensiveness, or encourage fruitless circular arguments.
  3. Reflect what was said: the first main technique is to simply reflect back what they said. Just pick up a few critical words and repeat them back to your child. This makes them feel heard and usually gets them talking more openly.
  4. Reframe what was said: sometimes your child gets in an obsessive loop about their appearance or food. In these cases it’s more helpful to reframe what you heard as a feeling rather than a fact. This often helps you connect on a deeper, more meaningful level.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for most of us. It takes practice, but it is a skill anyone can learn.

Talk less & listen more

Most kids tell me they wish their parents gave less advice and listened more.

Most parents tell me they can’t stop themselves from giving advice. It feels compulsive and automatic. They feel as if that’s their only option for responding to a child.

But when we give advice, we end rather than open conversations. Giving advice is the opposite of active listening. Advice-giving shuts down conversations, while active listening opens them up. Advice-giving can make our kids pull away from us or anxiously reach for us when they should be solving their own problems. But active listening helps our kids get to know themselves better while simultaneously making them feel more connected to us. 

The next time your child shares something with you, practice not telling them what to think, feel, or do about it. Instead, use active listening to help them expand on what they’ve said and get to know their thinking. 

Too often we rush in with an opinion and/or suggestion for how our kids should feel, think, or behave because we are worried that our child is not capable of making good choices. When parents give advice, they are trying to stop their kids from making bad choices. But the only way to learn how to make good choices is to make bad choices and face the consequences. Parents should not stand in the way of bad choices unless the consequences are truly dangerous or hurtful.

Advice most often leads to a conversation shut-down, defensiveness, or useless debate. Active listening opens the conversation and helps our kids figure out who they are, what they like, and what they believe.

This is how we teach our kids to be autonomous adults. And it’s also how we gain a deeper connection with our kids.

How to talk about food and body issues

Here are some examples of how parents can respond to inflammatory statements about food and body issues with active listening. These responses will help open up conversations rather than shut them down or turn them into lengthy debates about the validity of each person’s perspective.

Food preferences

When they say: I hate Brussels sprouts

Advice: You might want to say something like “But they’re so good for you and they’re delicious!” But this approach will make them either dig their heels in or ignore their own preferences. For example, a child might decide that your pushback on food is an area in which they can seek individuation and autonomy from you. In this way, they may be less willing to even try the food or consider liking it in the future because now it’s a power struggle rather than just food.

Active Listening: Instead, try reflecting what they said back to them: “You don’t like Brussels sprouts.” This is a simple statement of reflection. You recognize they are stating a food preference, and it’s not your job to editorialize or change it. The point is that food preferences are personal. It’s not an area where we can help our child by debating the value or deliciousness of a certain food. That usually backfires. So just reflect their preference back to them. They may choose to tell you more, which allows them to explore the preference on their terms (not yours).

Weight worries

When they say: I hate that I weigh this much!

Advice: You might feel as if you have to counteract their statement with something like “Your weight is fine! You’re perfect! Stop thinking about it!” But this approach will likely start a debate about how much they weigh, what they look like, and the value of different body weights. This is not a good place to have a conversation. It will lead to circular arguments and fruitless debates.

Active Listening: Instead, try redirecting the conversation to something useful: feelings. You can say something like “It sounds like you’re feeling bad right now.” In our culture, weight has become a way to judge someone’s worth, and kids can feel as if their appearance is who they are. We want to counteract this tendency by talking about who they are, not what they look like or weigh. Keep the focus on feelings, not fat, and you’ll have a much more fruitful conversation.

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Eating

When they say: I skipped lunch today

Advice: You might want to jump in to share your disappointment and fear about their behavior. This makes sense but is unhelpful. If you say something like “Oh no! Why? Did you forget? You know you need to eat!” your child is likely to either shut down or get defensive. Any advice about eating can feel judgmental, and that’s not a good place to be when it comes to food. Of course, you want your child to eat well, but try to avoid any sense of coercion or judgment when it comes to eating.

Active Listening: Instead, try reflecting on what they said back to them. You can just say “You skipped lunch.” It sounds very simple, but this makes them feel heard and they are more likely to now tell you why they skipped lunch. It may sound like an excuse to you, but the important thing is not to correct their thinking but to help them explore why they make choices so they can make different ones next time. It’s best if we provide a non-judgmental environment where they choose to explore their choices rather than a punitive or critical environment where they stop sharing with us or don’t develop their own decision-making skills.

Getting dressed

When they say: Nothing looks good on me!

Advice: You may be tempted to say something like “You are beautiful and perfect and look great in everything!” The trouble with this approach is that it will start a debate about their body’s “flaws” and their appearance. This is not a helpful road to go down. It can lead to circular arguments and unhelpful debates. The more you try to convince a body-conscious child about their beauty, the more they will push back, and this pushback can become entrenched and drive their misguided beliefs even deeper into their psyche.

Active Listening: Instead, try saying something like “It sounds like you’re feeling like you don’t have any good options.” This opens the conversation to how they are feeling rather than their body. One of the things we need to help our kids develop is the ability to recognize that feelings are not facts. We don’t do this by telling them they look good. We do this by showing them that we’re interested in their inner world more than their outer appearance. When you use active listening, you’re not telling them how to feel, but you are helping them tell you how they feel by reframing what they’ve said and asking open-ended questions.

Advanced challenge:”I feel fat”

“I feel fat” is a common conversation starter when a child is distressed, unhappy, and feeling overwhelmed with emotion. If you respond to the content of the comment, you miss the opportunity to address the purpose of the comment, which is to connect with you and get support. You may also get stuck in a negative and fruitless conversational loop and accidentally perpetuate weight stigma.

Start by validating your child’s feelings. Your child needs to feel as if you heard and understand what they said. But instead of focusing on the word “fat,” or their body, identify a feeling that you can validate, like:

  • It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • I can hear how worried you are right now.
  • It can be stressful to live in a body in our society.

It takes maturity to recognize that bad body thoughts are usually about feelings, not external appearance or weight. Parents can help kids shift from blaming their appearance to feeling their feelings. Don’t give up – this will take time and patience. But it will also help your child gain body peace!

Next, during a neutral time when your child is not complaining about their body, talk to them about the harm caused by using “fat” as a stand-in for negative feelings.

Here’s what I say:

“In our culture, it’s common to say “I feel fat.” But this is said as a negative, and it means we believe that fat is bad. And that’s not something I’m willing to accept in our house. It’s called weight stigma and is a form of discrimination against fat people. So when you use that phrase, I’m going to ask you to talk about your feelings instead of fat.”

NOTE: If your child is in a larger body and chooses to reclaim the word “fat” as a neutral way to define their body, that’s great!

That’s very different from using the word “fat” as a stand-in for a feeling. And it’s not appropriate for a thin person to use the word “fat” as a way to complain about their body.

The nuance here is that the word deserves respect, and we need to pay attention to the intention and tone.

Active listening for food and body talk

The goal of using active listening for food and body talk is to help your child open up to fruitful conversation. The downside of giving advice about food and body issues is that you can either shut down the conversation or expand it in unhelpful ways by getting into circular arguments.

When a child is obsessed with food and body issues, ongoing debates about food and body are not only fruitless, but they can create the opposite outcome that you’re striving for. For example, an ongoing debate about whether a person is fat or not can merely entrench the child’s idea that feeling fat is a valid point of debate. It’s much better to help your child tap into true feelings (fat is not a feeling!) and find out what’s going on beneath the circular argument they’re engaging in.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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You’re wearing that?!

Why power struggles over clothes aren't worth it

How to avoid power struggles over clothes

Getting dressed should not be a battleground, and most of the time you don’t need to get into power struggles about clothes. Power struggles over clothes can result in the following side effects for our kids:

  • Low self-worth
  • Poor sense of self
  • Rebellion
  • Underdeveloped autonomy
  • Damaged parent-child relationship
  • Mental health issues, including eating disorders
  • Perpetuating unhealthy social norms

The first and most obvious reason for this is that your child’s body is their sacred property. It is theirs to own and care for. If we try to dictate what they wear, we can get into dangerous territory in which we cross personal boundaries, reinforce toxic beauty standards, and promote negative messages that impact self-worth. Since these are risk factors for eating disorders, we should avoid controlling or criticizing clothing choices whenever possible.

Getting dressed is personal. And it’s a chance for your child to safely explore and develop their identity and autonomy. Children who have a strong sense of self wear clothes that they enjoy, that are comfortable for them, and that allow them to express their individuality and/or membership in a group. These children grow into strong individuals who are not prey to the whims of beauty standards, the thin ideal, or other unhealthy societal messages.

Most of the time you don’t need to get into power struggles over clothes. You rarely need to tell your child what to wear. Instead, prioritize their comfort and preferences. Let them find and express their own individual style.

You don’t need to control clothing (most of the time)

It’s true that in some situations parents can make suggestions about kids’ clothes. But these are extremely rare. And clothes shouldn’t be a place to have power struggles, but rather a discussion, compromise, and agreement. Keep your boundaries and remember that their body is theirs, not yours.

Sure, younger kids may need more guidance about clothing in certain situations. But in the vast majority of situations, parents can and should let kids make their own choices about what to wear with minimal guidance.

Most of the time getting dressed is an issue you can leave up to your child. And the less you say about their choices, the less likely they are to rebel or struggle with perfectionism or identity issues.

Why not comment on what your kid wears?

If you’re thinking about making a comment about what your child is wearing, take a breath and think about why you’re doing it. What is your goal? Many times parental control over clothing comes from a desire to protect our child from social shaming. We believe that if we dress them the right way they will be liked by their peers and other adults.

That’s a worthy and understandable goal.

But the problem is that the most important person your child wants to be liked by is YOU. And when you try to control what they wear, they, unfortunately, begin to believe that what they wear is more important to you than who they are.

Another reason parents comment on kids’ clothing is because they are afraid that they (the parent) will be judged by friends, family, and society. In this case, your feelings are valid, but you need to manage your behavior and avoid crossing an important boundary between parent and child. You should not ask your child to solve a problem that is yours to handle. If you worry about being judged, figure out how to process and deal with your worry without imposing it on your child.

What we do matters more than what we say

You never have to say it or even think it consciously. But if you pay a lot of attention to what your child wears they will interpret your interest and attention to clothing as something that makes a big difference to how you feel about them.

Kids don’t hear what we say. They hear what we repeatedly do. So even if you say you love your child unconditionally, if you are commenting on their clothes often then you are showing them that appearance is very important to you.

They will either seek your approval by focusing on their appearance or they will rebel as soon as they can to prove to you that they get to do what they want to do with their bodies. Either way, they are building an identity based on what they perceive to be your perception of them rather than learning to look inside and learn about who they are.

Clothes are not the most important thing

The most important thing for parents to do is validate that their child is worthy and lovable exactly as they are. And we want them to build their own sense of self rather than a reflection or rejection of what they think we want them to be.

Of course, we live in a society that has expectations, structure, and rules. And in some cases, there are rules about what kids need to wear.

But most of the time we don’t need to have rules about clothing. Most of the time this is an area where we can step back and let our kids build their autonomy. Doing this builds confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem. All of these are protective against eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

When we let kids dress themselves, they grow up stronger and more resilient against peer pressure. And that’s a very good thing.

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Think back …

Many times when we think back on our own lives, we can remember how frustrating it was to have parents tell us what to do. Maybe your mom liked to dress you in her style – not yours. Maybe your dad bought you dresses that were itchy and scratchy but you had to wear them anyway. In most of those cases, you probably felt at least somewhat controlled and dominated. That’s because what goes on your body should be up to you.

When a parent gets into power struggles over clothes they need to evaluate their values and consider the lessons being taught. We all want to raise kids who have a strong sense of self. And that comes from experimenting and listening to themselves – not others. Personal style is personal, so we want to give our kids space to develop it themselves.

Maybe you loved having your parents tell you what to do. Maybe you love fashion magazines and following beauty standards. You get to do whatever you want with your body. But think carefully about your own child. Do they like it when you tell them how to dress their bodies? If not, then that matters. Their opinions and preferences matter as much as yours do.

Just because we liked something as kids doesn’t mean that’s how we should parent the kids we have. And just because we like to wear a certain style or have a vision of how we want our child to look doesn’t mean our kids should be compliant to our wishes.

Our kids may be young humans, but they are still humans with their own identities, preferences, thoughts, and feelings. And when we try to take away their most basic rights of how to dress we could impact our relationship with them … and their relationship with themselves. Repeated power struggles over clothes are not worth the risks.

How a clothing power struggle begins

Power struggles begin when parents try to control what their kids wear, either overtly (wear this/not that) or covertly (are you really wearing that?). This can damage a child’s sense of autonomy and self-worth. Here are some examples of how power struggles begin when it comes to clothes:

Overt Comments

  • That’s not flattering
  • Wear this instead
  • You look awful in that
  • I laid out your outfit for today
  • Don’t wear that
  • Go change your clothes
  • You can’t wear that
  • That’s hideous
  • That’s inappropriate

Covert Comments

  • Are you sure you want to wear that?
  • Maybe you want to put on some makeup?
  • I’m not sure that’s the right choice
  • Do your friends dress like that?
  • Can I make a suggestion?
  • [wince]
  • [wide eyes]
  • [gasp]
  • [eye roll]

Note that you don’t need to say a word for your child to know what you’re thinking. Our kids are intimately tuned in to what we think about them, so pay attention to your facial expressions as much as your words.

What to do instead

Next time your child comes out of their room wearing something you disapprove of, avoid the power struggle. Instead ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m about to say about them or me? (think deeply about this – it’s usually about you)
  • Is what I’m about to say kind and respectful? (would I say it to a coworker?)
  • Is what I’m about to say supportive of my child’s individuality and autonomy?
  • Am I imposing rigid and outdated social norms on my child, and if so, why?
  • Am I trying to control my kid’s clothes because I’m uncomfortable with their size, shape or gender?
  • Does what I’m about to say show my child that they are lovable just as they are?

Asking these questions is essential to raising a strong, confident child who knows who they are, what they like, and trusts their parents love them for those things. It’s never too late to give kids the freedom of dressing according to their unique preferences. And it’s a huge and worthwhile gift that we all have the power to give.

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But what about values?

Perhaps you believe that you should control what your child wears because your values are important to you. For example, maybe you value modesty and your daughter prefers short shorts and tight tops. Maybe you value order and your son prefers baggy pants and ragged t-shirts. Or maybe you value femininity and your child is non-binary and prefers gender-neutral clothing.

To handle this I suggest that you hold one value above all else: dignity. To possess dignity is to have absolute, intrinsic and unconditional value regardless of appearance or actions. This means that each and every person, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, size, weight, race, income, intelligence, appearance, etc., deserves to be treated with respect and as an autonomous thinking person.

When dignity lies at the heart of your family values you recognize that while you can have rules, expectations, and structure, each person still gets to behave autonomously in key areas such as dressing themselves. This can be seen as the dignity of self-expression.

You can also separate your personal values from your family values. While you personally may have values that guide your behavior or how you dress, your family should have just 3-4 shared values that guide your household. For example, dignity should be more important than modesty, order, and gender roles.

But what about the dress code?

If your child attends a school that enforces a dress code, I suggest that you talk to your child about the dress code and tell them what you expect in clear and simple terms. Then let them handle it. In other words, if they get in trouble for violating the dress code, that will be a natural consequence that is theirs to handle.

Dress codes disproportionately target females, higher-weight individuals, people of color, and trans kids. In many cases, your child’s rejection of being “dress coded” may be a sign of a healthy self. I’m not saying they should break rules regularly, but dress code rules are rules they can safely test without lifelong consequences.

Unless they are at risk of expulsion for violating the dress code, this is probably something you can leave up to the school to handle. It’s their rule, let them enforce it.

Most of the time your child will either decide it’s not worth getting in trouble or find creative ways to skirt the dress code. Either way, this is a healthy and appropriate way for them to learn social boundaries without you policing them.

But what if it’s a signal?

Sometimes when a child suddenly changes their style it could be a signal that something is wrong. Clothing can be communication. So I suggest you tread carefully here and focus on feelings, not clothes.

Pay attention to how your child is behaving and other things that are going on for them. If you believe they are facing a challenge, then how they dress is just a symptom of the challenge. Address the cause, not the symptom.

Maybe they are lonely, overloaded, stressed, grieving, depressed, anxious, or experiencing poor body image. If you focus on the symptom (clothes), you often create larger issues. If you focus on the cause, you may be able to help your child feel better.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Social media filters are ruining kids’ body image

Social media filters are ruining kids' body image

Social media filters are impacting our kids’ body image, and luckily there’s something parents can do to help. We’ve got to have “the talk” with our kids about social media, and we’ve got to do it soon.  

We’ve entered a deeply fraught period in which our kids are seeking body modification – surgical, fitness, and food – in pursuit of a completely inaccessible beauty ideal.

The source of this problem? Social media. Social media use is strongly associated with explosive increases in body dysmorphia and eating disorders. There are three drivers of this phenomenon: 

1. Social media platforms use algorithms to maximize time spent on the platform because time spent directly equals revenue.

2. Celebrities and influencers exploit social media algorithms and use filters to gain traction (and revenue).

3. Peers seek emotional validation and social proof on social media. Most teen girls will not post a selfie without a filter.

Unhealthy exposure

Basically, our kids are being exposed to highly curated and heavily filtered images of “beauty,” and they find themselves coming up short with their real body, hair, and face. Social media filters are making it harder to raise kids with healthy body image.

  • 34% of teenagers spend at least three hours a day scrolling on social media
  • 80% of girls say they compare the way they look to other people on social media
  • 24% of girls think that they don’t look good enough without photo editing
  • Girls take on average up to 14 selfies in an attempt to get the right “look” before choosing one to post

Source: Dove

What can parents do?

The facts about the dangers of social media for girls are devastating. But there is a lot that parents can do. And most parents are underutilizing their influence. We can counteract the impact of social media filters on our kids’ body image.

While about 80% of parents have the “sex talk” with kids, only 30% talk to kids about responsible social media use. Most of this comes from our own lack of knowledge and understanding about the topic and a healthy amount of pushback from kids when we challenge their preferred form of socialization. 

While it would likely be better for our kids’ body image if we banned social media completely, that’s about as unrealistic as banning sex. Abstinence-only programs and policies are a failure. They do not reduce how much sex people have or the consequences of risky sexual behavior.

An abstinence-only approach to social media, while tempting, is unlikely to be effective. Instead, parents should integrate conversations about social media, particularly how the algorithms work, the impact of filters, and the way we feel about ourselves as a result.

Having “the talk” about social media

It may be uncomfortable at first, but parents should have “the talk” with kids about social media. And just like with sex education, this talk should not happen just once, but instead, be woven into conversation regularly. We also need to be clear that our goal is to share ideas and information. If we try too hard to convince or get buy-in, it can backfire.

Here are the three main elements of body image education with social media filters: 

1. The algorithm

Kids need to know that social media is not a natural social environment, but a capitalistic pursuit. Social media companies collected $41.5 billion in 2020. They make money not by providing a fulfilling and safe social environment but by exploiting natural human curiosity and impulses.

Social media algorithms are sexist, racist, and discriminatory. They lean heavily towards promoting posts that perform well for the algorithm, which are most often thin white women in provocative poses.

What to say: kids hate the idea of being controlled, so let them know that the algorithms are designed to generate revenue for billionaires.

2. The filters

Social media filters are so common that unfiltered photos are novel and unusual. And they tend to not get as many likes as filtered photos. Social media filters are now associated with increases in cosmetic surgery. 

Snapchat Dysmorphia’ is a term that was created by plastic surgeon Dr. Tijon Esho in 2018. It describes the increasing phenomenon of people seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like their filtered face in real life. 55% of plastic surgeons in 2018 reported that patients were seeking surgery to look better in selfies.

What to say: filters are so normal that people are taking filtered photos to plastic surgeons … and even surgery cannot achieve what a filter can. That’s the definition of “unattainable beauty standards.”

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3. The feelings

Social media has an unquestionably negative impact on self-esteem. The platforms are designed to keep us scrolling because they exploit natural pathways in our brains. Dopamine hits from social media likes are intense, but they are ultimately empty. You can feel great for a post that does well, but then feel crushed if a post doesn’t do well.

Then there’s the comparison effect. We naturally compare ourselves to others. Endless images of filtered, conventionally attractive images that uphold a rigid beauty standard are harmful. Our brains don’t naturally differentiate between what we see on the screen from real life. So we feel less attractive, less important, and as if we must compete to be worthy.

What to say: social media gives us dopamine hits, but they aren’t meaningful or lasting. It drives insecurity and comparison, the opposite of fulfillment and connection.

We can do it!

There is no way to perfectly protect our kids from the impact of social media on body image. But we can do a lot to counteract the negative impact of social media. And it’s not all bad! Some kids adjust the algorithm to fit their interests and hobbies. 

Social media does have tremendous opportunities to teach and inform. For example, the rise of transgender awareness has been powered by social media. We just need to make sure that kids recognize the opportunities and limitations of social media. 

Recognize that social media companies will never protect our kids from harm. We must take that responsibility on ourselves.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Influence of Culture & Media on Teen Body Image

Influence of Culture & Media on Teen Body Image

By Alejandra Sandomirskiy, high school sophomore

How do peers, cultural messages, and the media impact a person’s body image? How do you think people should handle the impact of peers, cultural messages, and the media?

As I scroll on social media, I often come across body shaming and misleading advice. While we may encounter judgement, becoming aware of the toxicity can impact the way we process its message.

When exposed to the negativity of peers, cultural messages, and the media, we start to focus entirely on our insecurities, disregarding our best qualities. However, understanding the inaccuracy of these portrayals can remind us of our individuality and improve our body image.

Cultural messages

With the rise of technology, cultural messages have become intertwined with the world of social media. The posts we see contribute to our desire for the “perfect” lifestyle and body, perhaps explaining the correlation between time spent on social media and a person’s self worth.

In a study researching the effects of Facebook on college students, those who spent more time on the app were “more likely to link their self-worth to their looks” (Simmons).

However, most of what we see on both social and print media is fake: pictures are posed and the use of filters and photoshop can be undetectable. It is unrealistic to compare our natural bodies to those of influencers and peers when we only see selective images of them.

If we distance ourselves from toxic magazines, television shows, and social media, we can form healthy habits and explore new interests without the opinions of strangers.

Online beauty contests

Additionally, critics of social media compare it to a beauty contest. On platforms where images of ourselves are aesthetically displayed, competition is bound to happen.

As people strive to obtain “likes” on their posts, the “line between a ‘like’ and feeling ranked becomes blurred” (Simmons).

As a result, people may take risky measures to achieve the body they long for. Skipping a meal occasionally may seem harmless, but this mindset can lead to eating disorders and lifelong body image problems.

Striving for peer validation can worsen people’s body image by linking popularity to appearance.

Peer comparison

We may find ourselves jealous of our peers’ bodies, or even frustrated as to why we cannot obtain their figure. Comparing ourselves to someone our age may convince us we are unhealthy or doing something wrong.

At the same time, we fail to consider that no matter what lifestyle choices we make, our bodies are genetically different.

Moreover, the lifestyle category of social media consists of a “disproportionate number of images” that “reinforce a thin ideal” (Mecca).

Influencers promoting restrictive eating can cause eating disorders and feed into the cultural message that “thin equals healthy.” Similarly, people with no knowledge of nutrition often promote unhealthy eating habits while guaranteeing inaccurate results.

Fighting back

To combat the impact of peers, cultural messages, and the media, we must understand the intent of cyberbullies and credibility of content.

When people body shame others for their entertainment, it is our responsibility to report hateful comments. In conversation, calling out others on their use of harmful language can make them reconsider their actions.

Doing research rather than listening to strangers or peers can give us more accurate information on how to care for ourselves. Likewise, following creators who promote body positivity and healthy lifestyles can make social media a more positive influence.

In order to create a community of support and self-love, we must embrace our body and those of others. In our lifetime, our bodies will allow us to travel, visit loved ones, make new friends, and create lasting memories.

The human body is a complex yet unique system that makes these opportunities possible, and it is our responsibility to love and care for ours.


About Alejandra

Alejandra Sandomirskiy is a sophomore at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland. She’s a member of the Student Eating Disorder Awareness Association (SEDAA), which is dedicated to raising awareness about eating disorders and helping to build positive self-esteem among boys and girls. In her free time, Alejandra enjoys exercising, playing the piano, and hanging out with friends and family. She also enjoys camping and going on hikes.


References

Mecca, Allison. “The Impact of Media, the Thin Ideal, and the Power of You.” Eating Disorder Hope, 7 July 2020, http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/impact-media-thin-ideal-power-of-you. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

Simmons, Rachel. “How Social Media Is a Toxic Mirror.” Time Magazine, 19 Aug. 2016, http://www.time.com/4459153/social-media-body-image/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

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Body image and shelter in place: help for parents

Body image is suffering with shelter in place regulations. Our kids are isolated and lonely. And there’s nothing like a lack of control to make you feel bad about your body.

Our society is based on body hate and weight stigma. We experience fat shaming and fatphobia everywhere we go: in schools, on social media, at home, with friends, with the doctor … everywhere.

Feeling OK about our bodies is difficult in normal conditions. But coronavirus shelter in place directives have made body acceptance even more challenging. These are not normal conditions, and the opportunity for body hate is worse than ever.

If you are noticing that your child is feeling even worse about their body right now, you’re not alone. Our kids are hurting in so many ways, and many of them are displacing their fear, anger, and frustration onto their bodies.

Signs of bad body image

Often we don’t even notice bad body image because it’s so normal. But parents should pay attention to bad body image during shelter in place and coronavirus.

Here are some symptoms of bad body image:

  • Looking in the mirror (and other reflective surfaces) more frequently than usual
  • Pinching “imperfect” body parts (e.g. tummy, upper arms, thighs)
  • Complaining about body parts (e.g. I hate my stomach, my thighs are disgusting)
  • Following “fitspo” accounts on social media that feature conventionally attractive and very thin influencers
  • Starting an aggressive fitness program that promises a flat stomach or other body part results in one week
  • Talking about other people’s bodies (e.g. she is so fat, I wish I looked like her, her body is perfect)
  • Skipping meals, eliminating foods, and engaging in other diet behaviors

These signs of bad body image can ramp up quickly, so parents should pay attention to their children’s baseline behavior and take notes of any new behaviors that may be reason for concern.

The trouble with bad body image

Having a bad body image is so normal in our society that many people don’t realize how harmful it is. We take for granted the idea that young people, especially girls, will hate their bodies. But bad body image is not benign. It is associated with the following negative outcomes:

  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Higher chance of developing an eating disorder
  • Poor performance at school/work
  • Distraction from intellectual and creative pursuits
  • Relationship problems
  • Increased chance of substance abuse
  • Social withdrawal

Negative body image can derail the most vibrant and passionate person. Because when we turn our passion on changing our bodies, we no longer see the larger opportunities beyond our body.

Because of this, parents who help their kids have a positive or neutral body image can make a huge impact on their child’s life success and satisfaction.

Bad body image is normal in our society

Even in the best of times, our society breeds body hate.

It’s no secret that we think larger bodies are bad and should be controlled. And even people in smaller bodies worry constantly about their weight and appearance.

It is extremely rare for a young person to feel good – or even neutral – about their body. Almost all of them would like to change some aspect of it.

Our collective body hate did not come from nowhere. We believe that small bodies are better and healthier. But this isn’t based on fact. Our beliefs have been shaped by the massive ($72 billion) diet industry, combined with the fashion and beauty industries. Their success is based on convincing us that none of us is good enough and we need their products to be better.

Powered by traditional, online, and social media, these industries have ensured that almost nobody feels as if they can accept themselves as they are. We all feel pressure to aspire to unattainable beauty standards.

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How parents can improve kids’ body image

Parents can have a big impact on their kids’ body image. How we feel about our own bodies, how we talk about other people’s bodies, and how we respond to our kids bad body image is important. Here are some key points:

1. Work on your own body image

As we said, bad body image is completely normal in our society. That means that unless you have done significant work on your own body image, it’s likely that you have bad body image.

We are most effective as parents when we model what we want them to do. When they are babies, we show them that we don’t want to touch the hot stove, and they follow our lead. It’s the same with body image.

Learn to accept your own body and your child is more likely to accept their body.

2. Don’t talk about other people’s bodies

It’s a national pastime to criticize other people’s bodies. This behavior encourages body comparison. It also shows our kids that bodies are objects that should be judged.

We don’t want our kids to see their bodies as objects, so we want to avoid treating other bodies as objects.

Notice how often you point out something that you think is “unattractive” or “strange” about another person’s body. It may be while you’re out walking, when you’re watching TV, or anywhere else.

No matter what the situation is, button your lips and do no comment on another person’s body, beauty, face, or physical appearance.

You can preach body acceptance all day and night, but if you judge other people’s bodies, that’s what your kids will learn.

3. Talk to your kids about their bodies

Parents need to learn to talk to their kids about bodies and body image. But most of us don’t know how to do this. We find ourselves spewing useless comments like “your body is beautiful,” or harmful comments like “you’re not fat, you’re chunky.”

Have an ongoing conversation in your household about bodies. Talk about how larger bodies are equally deserving of respect. Tell your kids that our bodies do not define who we are, how successful we will be, or what we will do with our lives. Become media literate and teach your kids to spot weight stigma in the media.

This can be challenging, but it’s well worth it. Take some time to stretch your understanding of body politics. The more you can promote body acceptance, the greater chance your kids have of feeling OK about their bodies.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

Body Respect Book

If you need some more help understanding body acceptance, I recommend this book: Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, by Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor

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Parents are kids’ default body image educators

Whether we like it or not, parents are our kids’ default body image educators. This means that even if we never intentionally address body image with our kids, they’re still learning from us. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, but it’s also empowering. We can make a huge impact on how our kids feel about their bodies, and we can turn the tide on increasing rates of body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders!

I spoke with Ginny Ramseyer Winter, MSW, Ph.D., who is the founding director of the Center for Body Image Research & Policy at the University of Missouri. She is doing important research about body image. Her work is designed to help shape policy, education, healthcare and how we parent our kids, all with the goal of improving body image.

“You’re educating your children about body image even when you’re saying nothing,” says Ramseyer Winter. “When you skip over important topics like diet culture and fatphobia, that’s a message. It can be difficult, but I really would like parents to understand that it’s healthy to acknowledge and talk about body issues.”

body image for girls ebook

Kids and negative body image

Body image is something we all have, and it’s heavily shaped by environmental factors. The way the media, industries, teachers, doctors, families, and peers talk about bodies is typically very harsh. Bodies are most often presented as something to be controlled and restricted.

As a result of our cultural messages about bodies, kids as young as three years old are reporting the desire to lose weight. Toddlers already know that larger bodies are “bad” and smaller bodies are “good.”

Parents are often caught up in a war with their own bodies, which makes it difficult for them to address their kids’ fears. As a result, parents may inadvertently reinforce cultural body-shaming beliefs.

Some things parents often do is:

  • Complain about their own bodies and restrict their weight
  • Criticize other people for being too heavy (often couched as “not healthy”)
  • Not educate kids about the value of every body, regardless of its size
  • Fail to point out that fat-shaming and weight stigma are discriminatory and harmful to a significant portion of our population
  • Respond to fears of being fat with reassurances like “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful!”

These responses are natural and normal in our society, and yet they are harmful to our kids’ self-esteem and self-worth. They can accidentally lead to lifetime struggles with body image and eating.

Why is body dissatisfaction so prevalent in kids?

The intentions behind body shaming are typically well-meaning. People believe that the way a body appears and what it weighs indicates its level of health. They also believe that everyone should restrict their body weight and feel bad about a body that is larger. These beliefs are not an accident.

Fatphobia has been around for over a century. But we have experienced a massive increase with the rise of the $70 billion diet industry. This industry funds our media outlets with powerful advertising. Most media outlets would not be able to survive without fatphobic advertising messages.

Together, the media and the diet industry have shaped our cultural beliefs about bodies and weight. They have impacted the way doctors and teachers talk about weight. Even scientists approach weight studies with the implicit bias that fat is bad. And yet science has not concluded that higher weights increase mortality, in fact, there is evidence to the contrary. Yet almost everyone believes that being in a larger body is deadly.

The belief that fat is bad directly supports the diet industry, despite the fact that not a single diet has been proven to be safe or effective. Almost all people regain any weight lost intentionally, and most people gain more weight and begin weight cycling, which is health-damaging.

How can parents educate their kids about body image?

Body hate is running rampant through our society. It’s based on beliefs that were placed in our psyche by the highly profitable diet industry and supported by media, researchers, governments, teachers, doctors, and peers. But fear of fat is not doing any of us any good. In fact, our current generation of kids is displaying higher than ever rates of body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Our war against bodies is hurting our kids.

Parents can help their kids have a better body image by teaching them that all bodies are worthy of respect at any size. Ramseyer Winter has the following suggestions for families who want to support positive body image for kids.

parent coaching

Support positive body image:

  • Banish diet culture from your home. No diets, restrictive food programs, or trying to manipulate weight
  • Focus on the body’s function rather than its appearance or aesthetic. Talk about what our bodies do for us, not how they look.
  • Limit/manage social media. Take a look at both the time they’re spending on social media and the content. Help kids fill their feeds with things that make them feel good about their bodies. Follow people who are spreading fat activism and positive body images.
  • Practice Intuitive Eating. Or at least model mindful eating, self care, and self compassion.
  • Engage in activity that makes you feel good. Try not to think about exercise as something that you do to burn calories. Find things that you enjoy, and do them together when possible.
  • Eat meals together. Even if they are just snacks, or dessert. Try to get together to eat and enjoy food regularly.
  • Use fat as a neutral term. Don’t use fat as either positive or negative. And the same goes for the euphemisms for being fat, like “not healthy” or “too big,” etc.

“Some parents have heard some of these ideas,” says Ramseyer Winter. “For others, these are new concepts. I really like working with parents on this issue. We can come up with innovative ways to interact with kids differently when it comes to their bodies. And I’m really interested in making sure that dads (as well as moms) are included in these conversations.” 

You can follow Ginny Ramseyer Winter on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to raise a child with better body image

By Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD

Most parents hope their child will grow up with a positive sense of self and a positive body image. And most parents wish the best for their children and dread the day their children believe there is something “wrong” with their bodies. Or the day some kid at school makes fun of them for the way they look.

But our culture is drenched in diet talk and negative body talk. And kids are learning about weight loss at much younger ages. Mass media and social media expose kids to diet talk and weight stigma early and often. The tricky part is, parents can’t prevent any of this from happening. 

However, parents can absolutely promote a positive body image in their kids. I’m going to discuss a bit about what body image is and how loved ones can foster a positive self-image in children. 

What is body image?

Body image is how we perceive ourselves when looking in the mirror or when thinking about how we feel in our bodies at a certain moment. It can also be how we think others perceive our bodies. Body image has little to do with what we actually look like. It can also change in an instant. Think about it. Have you ever had a day where you woke up feeling great and loved how your body looked? But then maybe a co-worker makes a comment or you see yourself in a certain angle, and then you feel terrible about your body? In reality, your body hasn’t changed much (or at all), yet it suddenly seems “wrong.”. 

body image for girls ebook

What is positive body image?

I often hear positive body image described as liking the way that you look. While that may be part of it for some people, body image is more about how we feel in our bodies than how we actually look. Positive body image is knowing that your body is good no matter how it looks. And knowing that you are not defined by how your body looks. That your worth is actually not based on your body at all. This is so important to remember because it allows us to find peace outside of our physical appearance. 

Why is positive body image important for kids?

Kids are becoming concerned about their bodies younger and younger. It makes sense with the culture we live in. Having a positive body image is important for kids, teens and young adults because feeling good about one’s body leads to more positive mental health, physical health and confidence. It allows individuals to feel empowered and comfortable in their skin.

Do parents influence body image? What can parents do to support positive body image in their kids? 

Parents absolutely influence their kids’ body image! I read a quote recently by More Love’s founder, Ginny Jones. It reads “We don’t need to have a perfect relationship with our own bodies to raise kids who are free from body hate.”

I love this. I think so many parents put pressure on themselves to be the perfect role models. Parents put blame on themselves if children struggle with mental health issues. And I feel this is even more common in eating disorder treatment. So many parents ask me if the eating disorder was “their fault.” Spoiler: it’s not. There are many reasons why an eating disorder develops and parents are not to blame.

Parents cannot control exactly how their kids will experience their bodies. And parents may struggle with body image themselves. Despite these facts, it’s still 100% possible for parents to foster body confidence. 

Tips for raising a child with better body image 

All kids:

  • Talk about what you like about your body, even if you have to fake it a bit. “I love my legs because they help me to dance!”
  • Give personality-based compliments, not appearance-based ones. For example, say “I love the way you light up when you start singing,” instead of “you’re so pretty.”  

Little kids:

  • Answer questions about your own body with neutrality and positivity (if you can). For example, maybe your child comments on your “big belly.” Or maybe they mention you have bumps on your legs. Say why you appreciate these things. (Yes, I do have a big belly and it allowed me to have you!)
  • Answer questions about other people’s bodies with neutrality and positivity. 
  • If your child calls someone else “fat,” resist the urge to say “that’s mean! Don’t call people that word!” Because in reality, many people are fat. Fat is a descriptor, like eye color and height. Don’t make “fat” into a bad word, but do educate your child about using the word “fat” respectfully.
  • Help your child write a thank you note to his/her body. What does his/her body do that’s so cool?!
Parenting for positive food and body

Adolescents and teens 

  • If your teen says, “I’m so fat (or ugly)” Resist the urge to say, “no you’re not, you’re beautiful!” This can be so hard to do! I think it’s a gut reaction for most of us. If you respond with “no, you’re beautiful,” that implies that fat is bad and not beautiful. It also implies that looking a certain way is important (reminder: we are worth more than our looks). Instead, respond with curiosity about what they mean when they say that. 
  • Have conversations about body ownership and consent. This is SO important for teen girls AND boys.
  • Encourage them to follow a diverse set of body-positive activists on social media to diversify their feeds and help them gain exposure to people in a variety of body sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities.
  • Encourage self-care and listening to the body for cues about when to rest, eat, move, and more

Young adults

  • Check in with them about body image. How do they feel about their bodies? Would it be helpful to talk to someone about body image? 
  • Encourage them to get involved in social justice movements that interest and excite them and give them experiences with people in different bodies.
  • Encourage your young adult to express themselves through art, fashion or music so they can express themselves and learn to feel comfortable being themselves.

Want more ideas? Download my free Body Image Workbook


Alexandra Raymond

Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD is an eating disorder dietitian in private practice in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex specializes in treating individuals struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. She practices from an intuitive eating model and enjoys working with individuals to improve body image. She is a passionate Health at Every Size © advocate and anti-diet dietitian. Alex provides eating disorder nutrition counseling in College Park and Fulton, MD. Alex’s College Park office is walking distance from the University of Maryland. Contact Alex by visiting www.couragetonourish.com/contactus or follow her on Instagram: @courage.to.nourish

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Body image for girls: free ebook

Body image for girls free ebook

The book is written by Ginny Jones, the founder and editor of More-Love.org, and Raina Rose, her 13 year-old daughter. They collaborated on a free eBook to help girls develop positive body image. This book quickly and easily presents the tenets of body positivity and body acceptance. It help girls understand the environment in which we live. It gives them tools to gain the confidence to rebel against the forces that support body hate.

I hope you will download this book and consider sharing it with your daughters, nieces, godchildren, students, patients, and student-athletes. All girls deserve to have a positive body image!

Here’s the opening letter from Raina Rose:

Introduction letter from Raina Rose

Hi peeps! I’m Raina Rose.

Body image is a tough subject, and I feel like a lot of girls feel confused. Because on the one hand, we see that body and weight is important in our culture, but when we try to talk about it with grown ups, they just tell us we should love our bodies. I don’t know about you, but that really doesn’t help me.

To me, “love your body” is just another way of making us feel bad about ourselves. That’s why I have a different approach – how about we just know that we’re OK – we’re fine. It’s OK and normal to have bad body thoughts. And it’s OK and normal to look in the mirror and feel bummed sometimes.

Here’s the only thing you need to know: you don’t have to love your body. You don’t have to think it’s perfect in every way. You just have to remind yourself that you’re worthy of respect in any body! I know it feels like you need to fix yourself, improve yourself, and look like the prettiest girl at school. But honestly, you’re good. As you are. No need to do anything or fix anything. You’re fine!

I’m going to provide you with information about body image, fatphobia, and why dieting is not a good idea. These are all tricky topics, and they can feel really confusing. If your mom made you read thousands of puberty books like mine did, you’ll remember that all of them included grown-ups saying something along the lines of, “I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that I was beautiful.” Did you read that in a fake-sounding sing-song voice? I sure did.

“Okay lady, that’s great, but no matter how many times you say that, it’s not changing my self-criticism.”

I remember reading that and thinking, “Okay lady, that’s great, but no matter how many times you say that, it’s not changing my self-criticism.” It’s as if that lady thinks that saying that she wishes that she loved her body back then will make me love my body now.

Reading the same passage again and again didn’t change my thoughts. I thought it was broken. “What’s with this?” I would think, “I’m supposed to think I’m beautiful, but I don’t. So what’s up with that?”

The thing is, no matter how many times you read inspirational quotes about loving yourself. No matter how many times your mom says you’re beautiful. It’s not going to change the fact that the media and our culture at large is built to create self-hatred and body shame. Telling us to “love our bodies” without seeing our bodies within the larger culture just isn’t enough.

If being told you should love your body has changed how you feel about your body, then contact me. Because I will go to your house, bow down at your feet, and shower you with Cadbury eggs, money, and possibly buttons. Seriously, I have a lot of buttons. I need to get rid of them.

We are all beautiful

Nevertheless, we are all beautiful. And sometimes you might not see it or believe it. But I guarantee that if I see you, I will think you are beautiful. That’s because often we can see beauty in other people that we can’t see in ourselves. But don’t be mad at yourself if you don’t feel beautiful. Just remind yourself that you’re normal (and awesome). Don’t diet. Don’t hate your body. You don’t have to compare yourself to other girls or women wearing tiny bikinis on Instagram. You’re fine.

There will be times of doubt. I often find myself complimenting my friends’ looks and then wishing that I looked like them. That’s just how we seem to be, and it’s not an accident. Billion-dollar companies create unattainable beauty standards and encourage us to compare ourselves to others and compete with each other. Then they tell us that if we buy their product we can look just like their models. Don’t feel beautiful yet? That’s OK, they have another product for us to buy! And so the cycle goes. Over and over and over again.

The fact that we feel bad about ourselves and as if we’re in competition with other girls and women doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. But it also doesn’t mean that we have to believe it!

We live in a messed up world, peeps. But this book is hoping to bring a little light into this cave we call society. Enjoy!

About Raina Rose

Hi, I’m Raina, and my mom runs More-Love.org. I’m only 13, and I can’t say that I’ve figured all this stuff out. But I can say that I’m really interested in helping all of us find a way to accept ourselves and our bodies.

About Ginny Jones

Hi, I’m Ginny, and I created and run More-Love.org, which helps parents raise kids who are free from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders. I waged war with my body for too many years, and I’m hopeful that this book will help you enjoy a peaceful relationship with your body.

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Five ways to promote body acceptance in children

promote body acceptance in children

by Jillian Lampert, Ph.D.

Over 30 million individuals in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. So it’s important to understand ways to combat disordered eating and promote body acceptance in children. For parents who are hoping to teach body appreciation and food acceptance, it’s important to understand eating disorders and to foster a household of gratitude.

Promoting body acceptance in children could be a protective barrier against developing an eating disorder. Body acceptance is an important way to help children be resilient in the face of tremendous societal pressure to engage in disordered eating, eating disorders, and body hate.

1. Be honest

One way parents can promote body acceptance in their household is to be open and honest about the reality of the overly prevalent messages about body and appearance.

Teach children about how these unattainable fantasy images can put people at risk for eating disorders. By explaining eating disorders to children in an age-appropriate way, you can make sure they are getting the truth about the illnesses.

In addition, teach your children to have a critical eye when it comes to advertising, movies, and more. Emphasize that changing our bodies to be skinny or muscular can make us sick and that often, models of all genders are altered to look thin or lean because those images compel people to buy products that will help them feel valued by society. 

Make sure your children know that these narrow depictions of appearance do not reflect everyday people. Share what you value about bodies and all the amazing things they can do.

Keep an open dialogue about societal body messaging – point out digitally altered ads or ridiculous messaging, and let your children know they can always bring questions or concerns to you.

2. Avoid body-talk

Parents are role models for their children. Children watch and see everything their parents do and it can have an effect on them. If a young child watches their parent talk negatively about their body, it’s likely that the child may view this as normal or copy the behavior. If a child’s parent looks in the mirror or the fridge and says they look fat or shouldn’t eat that, the child may learn that behavior.

Additionally, it’s recommended that parents avoid commenting negatively or superficially on their child’s appearance. It can be tempting to say things like, “You look so thin in that homecoming dress!” or “I can tell you have been working out.” However, these statements can misplace value on appearance instead of character and gratitude. They may also enforce disordered behaviors in children.

Instead of commenting on looks, try to praise personality, character, and accomplishments. You can replace, “You look so thin in that dress” by saying, “I am so proud that I raised a daughter that is succeeding in school and able to attend homecoming. I’m so happy that you have a great group of friends to go to homecoming with.”

3. Speak about what your body can do, not what it looks like

By focusing on what our bodies look like, we often demonstrate to children that how our bodies look to others is the most important thing about them, which is not true. Our bodies can accomplish great things and the importance of the amazing things our bodies can do is what we should be emphasizing to our children. It’s important to express these positives in a way that your children can witness and understand.

Easy examples of incorporating positive body messaging include praising your body for allowing you to go to your children’s soccer game, saying you are grateful that your body keeps you alive, or to play catch in the backyard.

It’s also important to teach children that ability does not equal worth. All bodies, regardless of size, shape, or ability, have value. They keep our hearts beating, our bodies warm, and allow us to move throughout the world in a way that works best for us.

4. Make food neutral

It’s important to model the fact that all food has a place in a healthy diet. Explain to your child that no food is “better” than another. Explain that just like only eating cake for two days in a row isn’t healthy for your body, just eating carrots for two days in a row isn’t healthy either.

Tell your children that bodies need balance and empower them to make food choices that serve their body’s needs.

A great activity to help you talk about the importance of food is to cook family dinner and get your children involved in the process of making healthy choices for themselves. Avoid classifying food as “good” or “bad” or set a particular order in which foods need to be eaten.

Try this

Try this instead with children: If you are having dessert at a meal, put everything offered at that meal on the table and let kids practice choosing what and when they want to eat certain foods. You might not like to eat your peas and your cookies at the same time, but your child might! Plus, it teaches them that peas and cookies are both food – that one is not inherently more powerful than another and that they both have value in a balanced diet.

Working to make food neutral helps kids to stay in touch with their internal hunger and fullness cues and not rely on external messaging about what they “should” want to eat. Help them to find the “just right” amount for them – are they hungry? How do they know? Are they full? How do they know? Listening to our bodies provides the wisdom we need to fuel our bodies well. 

5. Encourage gratitude

By planting seeds of gratitude into young children, you can encourage body acceptance and appreciation. Work to incorporate one or two moments of gratitude into your children’s day.

You could say thanks before dinner or you could have a goodnight routine where you say one thing you are grateful for that day.

Make sure that you are sharing what you are grateful for, too. Some examples could include, “I am grateful for my body which let me go to the grocery store with my family” or “I am thankful for my strong arms because they let me hug my children.”


Eating Disorder Basics

Promoting body acceptance in children can help them be resilient when faced with the pressure we put on bodies in our society. Endless comments about weight and food can create the perfect storm for eating disorders.

Here is a quick overview of the eating disorder basics so you can keep an eye out for any warning signs in your child.

Eating disorders are complex biologically-based mental illnesses that can cause severe harm. They are often marked by extremes, such as dramatic weight changes or uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors. Eating disorders are not a choice, phase, or fad. Luckily, eating disorders are treatable by professional teams made up of a therapist, doctor, and dietitian.

Types of eating disorders and their related signs and symptoms include:

Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia revolves around the desire to lose weight and reduce calorie intake. It also includes an obsession with size, shape, weight, and appearance. Typical signs include a desire to lose weight, food restriction, over-exercise, and seeing one’s body as larger than others do.

Bulimia Nervosa. Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of overeating followed by purging, fasting, laxative use and/or over-exercising. Individuals suffering from bulimia may purge in secret several times a day. Warning signs include food that disappears, overeating, frequent bathroom use after meals, and signs of purging.

Binge Eating Disorder. BED is defined by repetitive and uncontrollable consumption of large amounts of food. This food consumption is often used to soothe negative emotions. Warning signs include compulsive eating, excessive eating without hunger, relying on food to ease negative feelings, and feeling a lack of control around food. Often, those with BED experience sickness, shame, or guilt following binge eating.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder. OSFED includes eating disorders that don’t meet the criteria for Anorexia, Bulimia, BED or Compulsive Overeating. Signs of OSFED include weight fluctuations, changes in food behavior and intake, negative self-talk, and more.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. ARFID is a disturbance in eating that involves  the consumption of a very limited variety of food, resulting  in substantial weight loss, nutritional deficiency and/or difficulty engaging in day-to-day activities. Warning signs may include weight loss, fear of choking on food, fear of food causing illness, a lack of interest in food, but with the absence of body image concerns.

Look for warning signs

Common warning signs of eating disorders in children include:

•    Weight changes

•    Strange food behaviors

•    Avoidance of food or particular food groups

•    Restricting food or engaging in purging behaviors

•    Compulsive behaviors

•    Personality changes

This matters

Teaching and modeling body acceptance to your child is important and could be a protective barrier against developing an eating disorder. If you are concerned about your child’s relationship with food or body, it’s important to bring your child in for an eating disorder assessment and possibly treatment. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can call The Emily Program or research eating disorder treatment options near you.


Jillian Lampert, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D., F.A.E.D, is the Chief Strategy Officer for The Emily Program, a specialized eating disorder treatment program with locations in Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. Jillian is a long-time advocate for eating disorder recovery and hopes that one day, all individuals can experience a peaceful relationship with food and body. Jillian’s main goal in life is to raise her daughter to accept and love her body.

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How parents can build healthy food habits & body image in kids

Parents in our culture all worry about one thing consistently: their kids’ food and body. As surprising as it may seem, this worry, which is dramatically increasing every year, is largely unnecessary and often results in poor health – the exact opposite of what we actually want!

From the time they are born, we are bombarded with messages about what our children need to eat and how their bodies need to perform in order to achieve “good parenting.”

But what would you do if you knew that worrying about your kids’ food and weight is actually less healthy for them than if you didn’t? Would you feel anxious? Relieved? Probably a little bit of both.

Food as communication

Hunger is the very first way that our kids communicate with us. Their need for physical nourishment collides with their need for parental nurturing, and most parents respond enthusiastically to their kids’ hunger, feeding them on demand and doing their best to respond to hunger and fullness cues.

But the more verbal our children become, the less we honor the connection between their hunger for food and their hunger for connection with us. The truth is that almost all humans maintain a strong link between physical hunger and the need for care and attention for life. But our culture looks down on this connection and believes we should completely separate physical hunger from emotional hunger.

We tend to live in fear of “overfeeding” our children, which we believe is a sign of poor parenting. This can lead to serious eating issues in our children, ranging from foodphobia (avoidance of and fear of food) to eating in the absence of physical hunger and beyond fullness (binge eating). Both of these extremes (and everything in between) are obviously problems, but we can often solve them more easily if we see them as a child’s primitive attempt to communicate with their parents.

When we consider how a child may be communicating with us via food, we can learn how to feed them physically and emotionally.

Lots of children are, unfortunately, being raised in environments in which food is restricted and withheld by parents. The restriction may be overt or subconscious, but if restriction of food is happening, the child feels hungrier on both a physical and emotional level. This can lead to serious food and emotional repercussions.

If a child has a disordered relationship with food, it may be a sign that they need something more from the parent-child relationship. Or it may simply be that they are hungry because their food has been restricted. The solution is (almost always) to offer them more food and provide more emotional nourishment.

Body image as a sign of pain

Bad body image is so common that it’s virtually impossible to meet a person over the age of 8 who doesn’t wish for something different about their bodies. But this is not healthy or normal, and no parent wishes this upon their child. Nonetheless, we are often part of the bad body image our children experience, and even if we have managed to avoid saying anything that encourages bad body image, we may not have learned to counteract the terrible body image messages that our child is fed every day.

Our society has become increasingly obsessed with weight, body size, and body performance. This obsession was previously primarily focused on females, but males are increasingly body-conscious and suffering the consequences that we have seen in females for decades.

Parents are made to feel responsible for their kids’ weight, even though a person’s weight is almost as intractable as their shoe size or height, neither of which parents take responsibility for other than basic genetics.

As anyone who has lost weight will tell you, before they lost the weight, they thought that weight loss would change their lives for the better, and that they would suddenly be happier and more loved as a result of losing weight. But they will also tell you that once they lost the weight, they did not see any emotional improvement. They did not suddenly become more confident, happy and attractive to others. In fact, they most often feel increased stress due to the near-constant fear about the probability of weight regain while still suffering from the same feelings of inadequacy that they had before they lost the weight.

Body image in our society has become a way to communicate fundamental unease with the self.

A person can be physically healthy but still seek weight loss because we have been convinced that weight loss is the most influential route to happiness. But it’s not. Emotional needs are never met when we change our bodies – they are only achieved when we actually meet our emotional needs.

Bad body image is a signal of unease with the self. If your child has a poor body image, they do not need to lose weight, they need help in bolstering their sense of identity, self-worth, and self-esteem.

What parents can do to build healthy food habits and body image in kids

The biggest issue we hear from parents is that they really want to build healthy food habits and positive body image in their kids, but they don’t know what to do or where to start. This is understandable. Those of us who are doing this work are cultural outliers – our parenting behavior is not “normal” in our society (unfortunately!).

But you should know that it is possible to have kids who have a truly healthy relationship with food and their bodies. It’s not easy, and it’s not perfect (almost everyone occasionally under- and over-eats, and almost everyone has bad body days), but it’s possible.

Here are three ways you can help your kids build a healthy relationship with food and their bodies:

1. Meet their emotional needs. Parents are imperfect. We know this. But it’s not enough to throw our hands up and say it’s just too hard or our kid wants nothing to do with us. We are parents, and we simply must find a way to meet our kids’ emotional needs. Even if they act like they don’t need us to do this for them, they do. It’s a hard-wired need inside of every human being.

Start by reading this excellent book about the parent-child relationship: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté.

Take it further by getting some therapy for yourself. A therapist can help you untangle your own emotional needs from your ability to care for your child’s emotional needs. A psychodynamic therapist will help you go back into your past and heal past wounds, while a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) will focus on immediate tools to help you parent more effectively.

2. Feed them effectively. We get a lot of confusing, unhealthy, and damaging messages about food in our society. It takes tremendous effort to overcome these horrible messages and feed a child who is not afraid of or overly-dependent on food. But you can join the growing club of parents who are doing this every day.

Start by reading this excellent book about feeding children: Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming, by Ellyn Satter.

Take it further by seeking the support of a qualified non-diet Registered Dietitian (RD) who recognizes the connection between food and emotional nourishment and can guide you towards building a more food-positive environment in your home. We have a directory of qualified non-diet RDs. If there isn’t one in your area, almost all of them will work with you remotely via phone.

3. Support a positive body image. Our society is filled with awful messages about what bodies are supposed to look like, but since 95% of our population does not meet the ideal that we see in the media, almost all of us feel badly about our bodies. Parents cannot prevent bad body days completely, because it’s virtually impossible to maintain a 100% positive body image given the environment in which we live. But we can make a tremendous difference in how our kids feel about their bodies.

Start by reading this excellent book, which will help you release any unhealthy thoughts and worries you have about your child’s weight: Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, by Linda Bacon.

Take it further by taking a deep dive into body positivity and reading this fun and uplifting book: Body Positive Power: Because Life Is Already Happening and You Don’t Need Flat Abs to Live It, by Megan Jayne Crabbe, also known as @bodyposipanda on Instagram.

Make a difference in your child’s health for life

Taking these three actions will make a difference in your child’s lifelong health. If you truly care about your child’s health, then one of your parenting goals should be to raise a child who never, ever diets or pursues any form of intentional weight loss. This is because intentional weight loss is shown to be more damaging to their health than staying at whatever weight they are before weight loss. If you need more proof of this, read Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, by Traci Mann.

If you can, please seek support from a qualified dietitian who can help you navigate food and body issues. We created the first directory of non-diet dietitians because we know that every single parent will benefit from at least one consultation with a professional who can help start to untangle our unhealthy foodphobia and fatphobia.

If you are skeptical about our statements about food and body and their true impact on health, please check out our research library of the science behind what we say.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.