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TikTok is dangerous for body image and eating disorders

TikTok is dangerous to kids' body image and likely increases the risk of eating disorders.

A new study found that TikTok videos focusing on “health” are dangerous for body image, promote weight loss, and may encourage eating disorders.

TikTok’s most-viral “health” videos overwhelmingly say that weight loss and thinness are achievable and desirable for all. TikTok is a major force in our kids’ lives, and it perpetuates harmful weight stigma and diet culture. It’s no surprise that the rise of social media coincides with the fact that eating disorders are skyrocketing.

Research has linked social media usage in adolescents and young adults to disordered eating and negative body image. This is most likely due to the prevalence of diet culture themes on social media, a primary source of information for many kids, teens, and young adults. Additionally, adolescent girls who report more time spent on social media are more likely to have high internalization of the thin ideal, a risk factor for eating disorders. TikTok is dangerous to kids’ body image and likely increases the risk of eating disorders.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

The danger of TikTok

“Each day, millions of teens and young adults are being fed content on TikTok that paints a very unrealistic and inaccurate picture of food, nutrition, and health,” said Lizzy Pope, associate professor and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at UVM.

Kids, teens, and young adults who create and engage with weight or food-related content on TikTok are at higher risk of having internalized body image and disordered eating behaviors. TikTok’s viral weight loss content is a powerful megaphone for diet culture. TikTok videos spread common beliefs: 1) you should lose weight; and 2) you should eat less and move more to lose weight. However, the data shows that these beliefs are inaccurate and harmful. Also, they are the foundation of eating disorder beliefs and behaviors. 

Eating disorders are pernicious and deadly. The last thing we need is a powerful social media app feeding our kids warped messages about health and wellness. But that’s what we’ve got. Here’s some more information for parents about TikTok and the risk it poses to body image and eating disorders. Keep reading for guidelines to protect your kids from the dangers of TikTok.

What is TikTok?

TikTok went worldwide in 2018 and has been downloaded over two billion times globally. Most TikTok users are Gen-Z (born in the mid-1990s to mid-2010s). In July 2020, TikTok reported that one-third of its 49 million daily users were at or below the age of 14. This youthful market means that TikTok is an important driver of cultural trends. 

TikTok is like Instagram or Twitter in that you can follow and like posts from specific accounts. But the app doesn’t require a person to follow certain accounts to view posts tailored to them. The default page for the app is a “for you” page with endless, algorithmically curated videos that the app has determined fit your preferences. Users report that the “for you” page on TikTok is eerie in its ability to create a crave-worthy feed that feels custom-made. 

TikTok is driven by a powerful algorithm that learns a person’s likes and preferences. That means the more a person interacts with kitten and puppy content, the more kittens and puppies they will see. Similarly, the more they interact with diet culture and weight-stigmatizing content, the more of that they will see. This is why TikTok is so risky to kids’ body image and promotes eating disorders.

What is a hashtag?

Hashtags are a way that social media algorithms group similar content together. It’s the # symbol followed by a word or phrase. On TikTok, users can add hashtags to their captions to help the algorithm direct people to their content. Hashtags are a serious driver of the powerful TikTok algorithm, which is credited with its massive popularity among young people. However, hashtags and the algorithm are also why TikTok is especially dangerous when it comes to eating and body image. If someone starts liking content associated with weight stigma and diet culture, they will receive much more of that content. 

The following data about TikTok is from this study: Weight-normative messaging predominates on TikTok—A qualitative content analysis, published November 1, 2022, in PLOS One

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

Glorification of weight loss

“The majority of posts presented a weight normative view of health, with less than 3% coded as weight-inclusive,”

Weight-normative messaging predominates on TikTok—A qualitative content analysis  

Nearly 44% of all videos examined in the study had content about weight loss, and 20% showed a weight transformation in the video. A recurring theme is that if you just try hard enough, you can lose weight. These messages are often wrapped up with health claims that weight loss and low body weight are healthy.

The weightloss hashtag alone has almost 10 billion views at the time of the study. Many videos depicted weight loss transformation achieved through exercise routines and diet plans, often showing weigh-ins and clothing “downsizing.” Exercise was portrayed not for its many health benefits but for its potential to aid weight loss. 

The videos use phrases like “no excuses,” “get up,” and “if you want it bad enough, you’ll do it.” This is a siren song for anyone with an eating disorder, cheering on the eating disorder behaviors and exacerbating the illness.

Diets and fads

Thirty-eight percent of videos explicitly showed food (cooking, eating, getting take-out, etc.), and 11.9% of videos featured active cooking. However, there was a clear theme that food was seen as a way of pursuing health or wellness rather than something fun and enjoyable. 

In 47% of videos with the hashtag “nutrition,” the video provided nutrition advice about what foods to eat. As expected, most offered advice about how to eat for weight loss. It was common for the video to pair a weight loss transformation with a “what they ate” sequence showing how they achieved their weight loss. 

Diets were presented as a way to achieve a “body goal.” About 14% of videos mentioned a specific fad diet or dieting behaviors. The most popular fad diets on TikTok are: 

  • High-protein
  • Low-calorie
  • Liquid cleanses
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Weight loss or detox teas or drinks

Another popular trend on TikTok is to make “healthy” versions of “junk” food. This messaging perpetuates the myth that food carries the moral qualities of being either good or bad.  

Who is creating viral body-toxic content?

“Most posts were created by white, female adolescents and young adults.”

Weight-normative messaging predominates on TikTok—A qualitative content analysis  

The study found that 42% of the most popular posts were created by college-aged young adults, 28% by millennials and 11% were created by high school students. More than 64% of the videos were created by female presenting users and 56% by white-presenting individuals. 

There was a notable lack of body diversity. Only 16% of posts showed someone with a larger body. This means the viral content on TikTok perpetuates the thin ideal, a major contributor to eating disorders.

Of all the videos about nutrition, just 1.4% were created by registered dietitians. This means that users are sharing nutrition tips with zero qualifications to do so.

TikTok guidelines for parents

TikTok is an important part of kids’ lives today. You can shut down all access to TikTok in the short term if you are currently dealing with an eating disorder crisis. However, over time you will want to support your child in learning to manage limits and manage social media since it’s likely to be an ongoing part of their life. Here are some guidelines for doing this:

1. Set social media expectations and limits

Your child will not like you setting social media expectations and limits. Of course not. But this is an essential safety issue. Explain to your child that you own their phone and can access or confiscate it anytime. 

This feels harsh, but it is a required safety action that parents must take when a child is at risk. Just like requiring a seat belt in the car, you must insist upon social media oversight to keep your child safe. 

tiktok body image eating disorders

Help your child understand that access to social media apps like TikTok is contingent on healthy consumption of TikTok. Let them know you’re going to monitor their use to ensure safety. You will need to do random checks of your child’s TikTok “for you” feed. The benefit of TikTok’s powerful algorithm is that your child can’t hide the type of content they are engaging with. If they engage with diet and weight loss content, their “for you” feed will be full of it. If they aren’t, it won’t.

2. Set up a phone contract

Some basic rules for phone use should be: 

  • You may not actively engage in diet and weight loss content or content that I believe is weight shaming and harmful. We’ll keep talking about this, so you understand what I mean.
  • You’ll hand me your phone on request without protest as often as I ask. Failure to give me access to your phone will result in me confiscating it for hours, days, or a full week, depending on the situation.
  • You will not turn off or change the parental controls I set. If you believe something should change, talk to me and gain permission. If you make changes without permission, I will confiscate your phone. 
  • I will open and review your apps, for example, to see what’s in your “for you” feed on TikTok.
  • If I can see that you are unable to resist diet and weight loss content, I will remove TikTok and other social media apps from your phone indefinitely. If you add it back without permission, I will confiscate your phone.
  • I will not open and read your DMs unless I am concerned.
  • I will not open and read your text messages and emails unless I have reason to be concerned.
  • The more I see that you are using social media in a healthy way, the less I will check, but it will never be never.

If you’d like a complete list of rules you can edit and present to your child, you can get it here.

3. Set up parental controls

You can set up the following parental controls. 

  1. Set the account to private. Tap the menu icon in the upper-right corner of the profile and select Settings and Privacy, and choose Privacy. On the next screen, tap the button text to Private Account. 
  2. Set a time limit. Set daily time limits on using TikTok, schedule mandatory breaks that lock your child out of the app, and see a summary of how much time was spent using the app.
  3. Filter keywords. Within settings, go to Content Preferences to set the app to block videos containing certain keywords. Tap Filter Video Keywords to add keywords and hashtags you want to be restricted. You can also choose which feeds to filter.
  4. Restricted mode. Within settings, go to Content Preferences to enable the password-protected Restricted Mode. This attempts to limit exposure to videos that the platform deems unsuitable for all ages. You can enable the mode by selecting it on the Content Preferences screen and setting a password so it can’t be easily disabled.
  5. Link your account to theirs. The Family Pairing feature allows you to link your TikTok account to your child’s for remote supervision and management. You can control who can send your child direct messages and who can comment on videos.

Note: you may also want to set parental controls on your child’s phone.

tiktok body image eating disorders

Hashtags to restrict/avoid on TikTok 

  • #thinspiration
  • #fitspiration
  • #cheatmeal
  • #weightloss
  • #quarantine15
  • #diet
  • #weightlossjourney
  • #fatloss
  • #weightlosscheck
  • #whatieatinaday

4. Increase media literacy

A condition of using social media must be ongoing conversations about the risks and impact of social media. I suggest you talk about social media at least once per week. Ask your child questions like: 

  • Who do you follow?
  • What do you see on your “for you” page?
  • How do you feel when you look at diet and weight loss content?
  • Do you think the people who go viral with diet and weight loss tips are credible sources of health information?
  • Why do you think diet and weight loss content is so popular on TikTok?
  • What do you think is the formula for a viral video on TikTok?
  • How can you protect yourself from harmful content on TikTok?
  • What is some TikTok content that you think is healthy? Why? How can you get more of that in your feed?

Participation in these conversations should be a condition of continued social media access.

5. Teach your child to tell TikTok not to show more diet and weight loss videos

The best thing your child can do is not engage with body and food content. But TikTok’s algorithm will likely continue to add diet and weight loss content to their “for you” page. Ask your child to actively select “not interested” when this content appears. This is how to do it:

tiktok body image eating disorders

I wish we could trust our kids to use social media safely, but that’s unrealistic. TikTok is dangerous to body image and increases the risk of eating disorders. It’s built on a compelling algorithm. And just like we don’t let kids jump in the car when they want to go somewhere without oversight and conditions, we can’t let them go on TikTok without safety measures to protect them.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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What to do when your child feels body shame

What to do when your child feels body shame

Eric has noticed that his child Mackenzie feels a lot of body shame. “It started with a few comments here and there,” he says. “But now she is constantly talking about how terrible her body is. She compares her body to everyone else’s and spends hours looking at herself in the mirror, pinching and criticizing herself.” 

Eric is not alone. Unfortunately, body shame is a common side effect of living in our culture. We have the perfect conditions for kids, particularly female and nonbinary kids, to feel self-conscious about how their bodies look. 

While many parents assume this is normal and a passing phase, Eric has good reason to be worried. Body shame is linked to low self-worth. It is a precursor to many mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders. While we can say that body shame is normal in our society, it is definitely not healthy. And parents can and should intervene to support their kids’ lifetime health and wellness. 

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

What is body shame?

Shame is a feeling that your whole self is wrong, not related to a specific behavior or event. When a person has body shame, it means they believe their body is intrinsically, essentially wrong and bad. They may attempt to make themselves feel better by manipulating their appearance. But it doesn’t work because body shame runs much deeper than appearance.

1. Understand our society and culture

Our society and culture are cruel to bodies. Bodies are constantly criticized, dominated, and treated as subservient to our brains. In our culture we worship at the altar of diet culture. This says that bodies should be thin, and that not-thin bodies must be controlled with diet and exercise. Diet culture also says that people who are not thin are less intelligent, beautiful, and worthy of time, attention, and love.

There is zero evidence of success in maintaining weight loss following a diet. And there is substantial evidence that dieting predicts weight gain. Yet the U.S. weight loss market reached a record $78 billion in 2019. Meanwhile, eating disorders are skyrocketing. And it’s no surprise: diet programs are basically how-to manuals for eating disorders. 

⭐ If your child feels body shame, you need to understand the cultural context. Body shame is baked into our society. Parents must consciously and intentionally counteract society’s discrimination against and domination of bodies. Parents also need to monitor social media use. They should limit overall time and reduce the number of body-toxic accounts that kids follow.

2. Understand your family’s culture

Families are the mini-culture in which our kids live. So how families feel about their bodies has a significant impact on how kids feel about their bodies. Families that criticize and dominate their bodies in the pursuit of thinness are more likely to have kids with eating disorders and disordered eating. They are also more likely to raise kids who diet. Dieting and weight control in childhood and adolescence predict higher BMI in adulthood.

Family cultures that assume that thin bodies are better than fat bodies cause significant harm to kids’ body image and lifelong health. This can be done actively, by telling kids that thin people are healthier and smarter than fat people. It can also be done passively, by never counteracting the societal messages that say those things.

⭐ If your child feels body shame, look hard at your family culture. This is not coming from a place of blame. If your family culture is body-negative, you are part of the vast majority of our culture. However, a body-negative family culture is a serious risk factor for kids. So take action to change your family culture around food, eating, and weight.

A word about the word “fat”

The term “fat” can be used as a slur or a neutral descriptor. In its neutral form, saying “fat” is the same as saying “tall” or “brown-eyed.” Other words for fat bodies, such as “overweight” and “obese,” are currently considered to be stigmatizing. Many fat justice leaders have reclaimed the word “fat” as the preferred neutral descriptor for their bodies.

However, we should not call someone “fat” unless we 1) are doing so kindly 2) have zero thoughts that they should lose weight; and 3) clearly have their permission to do so. And nobody should ever use “fat” as an insult. It’s always best to let people who live in marginalized bodies to define themselves rather than assuming a label on their behalf. And never tell a person in a larger body that they are “not fat” or should be proud to be fat. It’s their body and their choice to define themselves on their own terms.

3. Understand the link between body image and self-image

Two things are true. First, body image is a reflection of self-image. And second, self-image is often directly tied to body image due to our body-negative culture. Therefore, we simply cannot separate a child’s body image from their self-image, and vice versa. A child who feels shame about their body also feels shame about who they are as a person. Because our body is our physical manifestation of our personhood.

It’s a mistake to assume that body image is separate from self-image. This is why our body-negative culture is so deeply damaging to kids. A child who grows up in a body-negative culture is more likely to feel shame about themselves as a person. And shame is toxic to physical and mental health. 

⭐ If your child feels body shame, then remember that it’s not only about their body. Body image is directly linked to self-image, and the two cannot be extricated from each other. Don’t assume that you can “fix” body image without going deeper and addressing self-image and self-worth. Body image isn’t ever fixed by working on outside appearance. It will not be improved with a diet, weight loss, or exercise program. A fitness class or personal trainer can only superficially improve your child’s body image. Body image is an inside job. If necessary, get your child a weight-neutral therapist, coach, or counselor who can help them develop a healthy sense of self.

4. Change how you talk about bodies

Because we live in a body-negative culture, most people speak poorly of bodies. We were raised in these conditions and will unconsciously perpetuate them unless we actively work to overcome toxic patterns. Speaking as if weight is a moral responsibility, as if weight is within people’s control, and as if weight is directly linked to how much a person eats and exercises is harmful. This sort of language encourages eating disorder behavior and body shame. It also encourages discriminatory and incorrect beliefs about larger people. 

Learn why a non-diet approach to health is the healthiest. Find out why weight is largely out of individual control. And why it’s better for our health never to diet than to attempt to change our weight on purpose. Next, change your language about bodies. Remember that body image and self-image are the same things. And never speak about another person as if their body is an object to be manipulated. The body is an essential part of each person’s existence as a human being. All bodies deserve to be spoken of with dignity and respect. 

⭐ If your child feels body shame, they may bring up a lot of negative self-talk about their bodies. They may cry and scream about their bodies. Do not accept this as “normal” and wait for it to pass. How you respond to negative self-talk makes a huge difference, and it’s not easy. Learn how to respond to body bashing and negative self-talk to help your child build self-worth. 

Support your child’s self-respect and body respect

We live in a body-toxic culture. If I could change the culture, I would. But since cultural change starts at home, let’s focus on our families and the people we love. Learn to talk about bodies with respect. Stop dieting and trying to control bodies. And actively counteract our society’s harmful messages about bodies to help your child stop feeling ashamed of themselves. Your actions really make a difference!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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 and eating disorder issues.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders


[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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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.

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.

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.

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:

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. Navigating body image and eating disorders 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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy


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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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, negative body image and eating disorders.

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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.

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.

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 and eating disorders. 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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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.”

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 and eating disorders. 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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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Is social media causing our kids to get more eating disorders?

Is social media causing our kids to get more eating disorders?

Our kids are developing eating disorders at higher rates than ever before, and many are asking whether social media is causing the spike.

One of the things that makes people think social media may be causing eating disorders is because it creates a powerful community around weight loss and body-based goals. Even when models are literally fake, people still see them as relatable.

Miquela (@liliquela) is an artificial intelligence ‘influencer’ who has 2.8 million Instagram followers.

For example, Miquela (@liliquela) is an artificial intelligence ‘influencer’ who has 2.8 million Instagram followers. She looks like every other fashion blogger, right down to her “useful advice” and “can I just tell you guys” relatable tone of voice. But she’s entirely fake. She literally does not exist, yet still influences millions of people.

Social media is dangerous because of its believability. Our brains believe (often subconsciously) that the posts are from “real people.” This belief makes people on social media more likely to influence how we feel about ourselves and others. On social media, everyone seems as real and approachable as your next door neighbor.

Social media posts often:

  • Use filters to enhance body shape, skin tone, eye and lip size, and more
  • Are boosted by an algorithm that naturally favors thin, conventionally attractive people
  • Show only one side of a “real” person. Just like models, the person behind the account becomes invisible, and their body becomes an object for consumption.
  • Create a “compare and despair” situation in which consumers of the media believe they are not as good as others.

The unattainable beauty goals previously modeled by professionals are now perceived as more achievable because they’re being modeled by “real people” on social media. Even if kids know that social media is “fake,” they still subconsciously believe they can and should look like their favorite influencers.

Many people suspect that social media is likely contributing to increased rates of eating disorders. And this is most likely partly due to the highly visual nature of social media. Also, social media influencers regularly give disordered diet and fitness advice.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

Social media is full of:

  • “I did it and so can you!” messages that promote ways of eating and exercising that meets eating disorder criteria
  • Paid promotions for diet aids that promise to burn fat, reduce calories, and achieve a thinner body
  • Non-scientific claims of “health” and “wellness” that can be dangerous
  • A powerful pull to jump on the bandwagon and join a community even if it is disordered

Social media is an environment that encourages and even provides a guidebook for developing eating disorders.

Eating disorders are more than vanity, and they are not a choice. But social media can make it easy to begin using disordered behaviors. For those people who are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, social media can be an easy place to begin.

Who is more susceptible to developing an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are biopsychosocial in nature. This means they combine biological, psychological, and social factors. Thus, social media alone can’t be causing eating disorders, but it can definitely contribute to them. A person becomes more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder when they have these elements in their lives:

  • Biological: there are certain hereditable traits that can make a person more likely to develop an eating disorder.
  • Psychological: a person who has other psychological conditions like anxiety and depression is more likely to develop an eating disorder.
  • Social: a person growing up in Western society, which favors very thin bodies for women and muscular, lean bodies for men, is more likely to develop an eating disorder

Eating disorders and the pitcher plant

pitcher plant and eating disorders (1)

To tell this story, I’m going to use an analogy. The pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant that has flowers shaped like pitchers. The flowers emit a tasty scent that is incredibly appealing to its prey. The bee is attracted to the pitcher flower. It cannot resist the tasty smell, flies over, and lands on the edge. It circles the top of the flower, sucking up delicious sweetness.

But, without noticing it, the bee starts slipping down the tube of the plant. It’s enjoying the food so much that it barely notices that it’s going deeper and deeper. It believes that its wings will save it when the time comes to make the choice to fly away. But the plant is sticky and slippery, and the insect slips further and further down the tube until it becomes stuck in a gooey mess at the bottom.

The bee just wants the sweetness of the pitcher flower. But it’s all too easy to go deeper without even realizing it.

Social media can be a sort of pitcher plant for eating disorders. If a person is vulnerable to eating disorders, they are attracted to social media posts that promote them. They think they are just sniffing along the rim. But then they may find themselves fully in an eating disorder without even realizing it.

Like the pitcher plant, eating disorders are very compelling for certain people. If we have the right combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors, eating disorders are easy to fall into. This is why social media may be contributing to higher rates of eating disorders by making them accessible to more people.

Social media can make eating disorders more attractive

Just like bees are attracted to the sweet smell and taste on the rim of the pitcher plant, some people are attracted to eating disorder behaviors. They can find endless posts to feed their curiosity. Social media provides inspiration, how-to, encouragement, and community. These can be irresistible for some.



Social media influencers post photos of themselves and tie their appearance to their behavior. So a very thin, pretty woman will say she is so happy to be vegan and gluten-free. Her next post may show her lifting weights or doing a yoga pose. The message is that she is thin and beautiful because of how she eats and exercises. Her followers believe that if they do what she does, they will look like her.

This applies equally to men and women. A muscular, lean man will say he uses protein powder, counts macros, and lifts weights every day. He’ll post shirtless photos of himself at the beach, in the weight room, and with other attractive people. The message is that he is strong and attractive because of how he eats and exercises. His followers will believe that if they do what he does, they will look like him.

FACT: body size, shape, and composition is largely outside of individual control. There are bodies that are genetically predisposed to be thin, lean, curvy, muscular, etc. Just because a social media influencer shares their diet and exercise routine does not mean that their followers will look like them if they do the same.



The deeper you dive into social media, the easier it is to find support for eating disorders. Influencers share details about how they distract themselves from hunger. They show their food diary, often falling well below caloric needs. Many share steroid and supplement advice.

While lots of influencers skate across the surface of eating disorders, others are actively pro-eating disorder. These influencers actually share tips and tricks for hiding eating disorder behaviors.

NOTE: Instagram has tried to protect its users from pro-eating disorder information. It has a warning system that allows followers to report dangerous behavior. But of course many pro-eating disorder posts slip through the cracks.



One of the things that makes social media so compelling is the encouragement that people can find. Posts that share weight loss and physical transformations receive a lot of attention, likes, comments, and shares. They may be the single most popular type of social media post.

But people don’t even have to share a photo of themselves to find encouragement. They can see other people’s posts and follow comment threads filled with positive affirmation for weight loss. Even if they aren’t directly told that they should lose weight, the social media environment encourages weight loss in thousands of ways.



The deeper a person goes into dieting, weight loss, and body modification on social media, the less able they are to see they are trapped. Just like the bee in the pitcher plant, they can get so deep in the sticky sweetness that they feel safe even when they are in fact in danger.

Social media communities arise when lots of people are going through the same experience. And one of the most powerful types of community on social media is diet. You can find a community of people around almost any type of eating behavior, including:

  • Low-calorie
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Low-carb
  • Low-fat
  • Paleo
  • Gluten-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Macros
  • Whole30

These limited ways of eating aren’t always disordered, but they tend to be very attractive to someone who is vulnerable to an eating disorder. Social communities that promote a limited and rigid approach to eating flourish because people are seeking belonging and approval. In our increasingly fractured society, finding belonging in a rigid eating and exercise program can seem like the only way to feel good.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

Understanding the allure of social media

When we think of social media as a very attractive flower, we can understand why our kids are attracted to it. And people who are susceptible to eating disorders are more attracted to dangerous eating disorder influencers.

Since eating disorders have a large social component, social media can be a major driver. Social media provides inspiration, how-to, encouragement, and community that can be overwhelmingly compelling for someone who is vulnerable to eating disorders.

How parents can protect kids on social media

Our kids are the “test generation” of social media. They are the first teens to go through adolescence with 24×7 access to each other and the whole world via social media. And we really don’t understand enough about social media to protect our kids completely from its risks.

It’s very hard to keep kids entirely off social media, so the best most of us can do is limit access and exposure. We can also actively counteract social media messages that may encourage eating disorders.

Here are 5 things parents can do:

  1. Put time limits on social media, especially during sleep and school hours.
  2. Tell your child that you can and will access their phone to review their social media activity at any time. In addition to reviewing their posts and looking for warning signs, parents should also check kids’ feeds to see the type of posts they’re seeing.
  3. Talk to your child about the dangers of social media. Help them understand that as sweet as it is, it’s important to set healthy limits to avoid falling in too deep.
  4. Talk about body image and eating disorders with your child. Help them understand that bodies are largely out of our control. Most people who look lean and fit on social media are genetically built that way. And very few people can achieve the same, even if they follow the same food and exercise programs.
  5. Help them build healthy, offline relationships that provide belonging and community. They need to feel as if they belong in real life, free from filters and algorithms.

It’s time for us to get educated about the damage social media can do to our children who are at risk of or already have an eating disorder.

Because, just like the Pitcher Plant, our kids may stumble into an eating disorder by mistake, but, once stuck, it is a very difficult thing to get out of.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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 body image and eating disorders. 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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.”

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. Diets are also the leading cause of eating disorders.

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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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 image.
  • 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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

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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.”. 

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?!

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 and eating disorders
  • 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.

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 or follow her on Instagram:

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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, 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 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, 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.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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

Negative body image and eating disorders often go together. 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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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.

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.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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 Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

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. It’s also strongly associated with negative body image and eating disorders.

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. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders

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How to raise a body-positive kid

Raising a body-positive kid is a great idea for so many reasons, including lower risk of eating disorders and disordered eating. But perhaps the most important reason for raising a body-positive kid is that it means your child doesn’t hate their body. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Here are the five tips for raising a body-positive kid:

1. Teach them to ignore diet culture

Diet culture absolutely surrounds us. It begins with the belief that bodies can and should be controlled. Everywhere we go, we see and hear messages about controlling our bodies by controlling our intake (food) and output (exercise).

Even people who say they don’t believe in diets will still perpetuate diet culture by telling us that we need to eat less and move more to be healthy. Eat less/move more behavior will never change weight, because our bodies are finely-tuned to restriction and will drive us to consume more food if we begin restricting intake or increasing output (exercise). The body sees weight loss as dangerous famine conditions and will fight physically and mentally to regain lost weight plus a little extra to protect against the next famine.

The only way to intentionally lose weight is to create and maintain a state of body starvation. Most of us are able to lose weight short-term by putting our bodies into a state of starvation using diet behaviors, but the unfortunate outcome is that we regain the weight and lower our metabolic rate in the process. In fact, the most common outcome of intentional weight loss is that we weigh more five years later (Journal of the American Dietetic Association).

But it’s OK! Because it turns out that it’s all right for our bodies if we don’t ever diet. As long as we learn to listen to our intuitive hunger cues and move our bodies in ways that feel good and sustainable, our bodies will do a great job of maintaining the weight they are meant to be.

Our “natural” weight without dieting may not be (and probably won’t be) the weight that we would *like* our bodies to be, but that is completely beside the point. Our bodies are not meant to be controlled or starved. They are meant to be respected, nourished and cared for.

Diet behavior is the most significant predictor of eating disorder development. Moderate dieting in adolescence leads to a 4x increase in eating disorders, and intense dieting during adolescence leads to an 18x increase in eating disorders (The BMJ). If we want to raise kids who don’t have eating disorders, we can begin by not allowing diet culture in our homes.

2. Teach them not to listen to the food police

We live in a time during which everyone believes they have something important and valuable to say about food.

  • In the supermarket, every package and sign will tell you what makes that particular food good and “healthy.”
  • In the check-out line, you’ll be exposed to magazine covers filled with messages about “superfoods” and “healthy” diets.
  • At work and at your family reunion, people will rave about the latest fad diets (celery juice! cleanses! detox! raw-vegan!).
  • At the doctor’s office they will ask you whether your child consumes “enough” servings of dairy and “limits” sugar.
  • At school, your child will be asked to write essays about the “dangers” of chocolate milk.
  • On Instagram, you’ll read about more of those fad diets and see plates artfully arranged with “healthy” foods and recommendations for transforming “bad” foods into “healthy” food (e.g. cauliflower pizza crust).

Everywhere we go, people are telling us what we should eat, what we should stop eating, what we should substitute, what we should ban. The food police is breathing down our necks. Most of us grew up hearing that fat was bad for us, but now there are promotions around “healthy fats” and diets based on fats-first. Today the undisputed evil is sugar, but it seems that nothing is off the table – there are diets that vilify almost everything under the sun, including fruits and vegetables!

Fear of food and cutting out entire food groups is a major symptom of eating disorders, and yet foodphobia is everywhere. Parents must work hard to overcome the societal messages that constantly tell our kids that they can’t trust their bodies and instead help our kids listen to their appetite and cravings.

Of course we want our kids to have good nutrition. That’s why we will offer them fruits, vegetables, and every other food group (including pizza, cookies, and tacos!) so that they learn to pay attention to their own bodies, not the dangerous messages that surround them in our culture.

3. Teach them to take down body shamers

We live in a body-shaming society. Magazines, social media accounts, and television programs all revel in the opportunity to show before-and-after shots with the very obvious suggestion that being in a larger body is something that we must “overcome” in order to achieve a glowing “after” with a smaller body.

Body shaming is frighteningly common within families. Many people who have eating disorders report that their parents were their first body bullies, and the way they feel about their bodies is still impacted by things that their parents, grandparents, siblings, and other family members have said about them.

Body shame is a symptom of an eating disorder, and body shame doesn’t come from nowhere. A child is not born hating their body. They are taught that their bodies are something that does not deserve unconditional respect and acceptance. Unfortunately, we’ve learned this well. One study showed that 97% of U.S. women had at least one “I hate my body” thought every day (Glamour).

The first thing parents need to do is make sure that body shaming is absolutely and unequivocally shut down in the family home. There is no room for body shaming at the dinner table, in the living room, or anywhere else in a child’s home.

Next, parents need to shut down body shaming family members. Speak to your fatphobic family members and let them know that you take body shaming seriously and that you will interrupt and leave if body shaming takes place while your child is present. It’s not rude to do this, it’s just good parenting.

Next, parents need to teach their children polite but firm ways to shut down body shamers everywhere. Kids need to learn to shut down or, at the very least, ignore body shamers at home, in the family, with friends and peers, at school, and in the doctor’s office. Work with them to develop some good interruptions, redirects, and straight-forward shut-downs.

For example:

  • Interruption: let’s talk about something else.
  • Redirect: hey, how’s your new job going?
  • Shut-down: please don’t talk about my body.

4. Teach them not to worry about BMI

BMI is an outdated but unfortunately ubiquitous measurement tool that is being greatly overused and abused in medical and school settings. Every time your child goes to the doctor, they will be weighed, and there is a good chance they will be weighed at school, too.

A weight focus can be extremely harmful since people who have eating disorders are typically obsessed with their weight. But BMI takes weight and makes it even more harmful by creating firm categories of “healthy” and “unhealthy” weights.

BMI was developed for population studies and was never intended to be used on an individual basis. That’s because it completely ignores individual body composition and natural body diversity. In fact, most athletes, actors, and people who work out a lot have an “overweight” and even “obese” BMI due to their body composition.

The fact that doctors and P.E. teachers use BMI as a way to start conversations about health is extremely upsetting, because BMI does not indicate health in any way. In fact, you might just as well use shoe size as a starting point for a health conversation.

Tying health to BMI is harmful because only a very narrow portion of our population fits within the confines of “healthy.” The vast majority of us fall outside of “healthy” weight based on BMI.

Body Image Printable Worksheets

Give your child the best tools to feel calmer and more confident in their body!

  • Boost confidence
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase media literacy

5. Teach them to fight back against fatphobia

Fatphobia is everywhere in our society. It’s having a huge impact on our children. One study found that nearly 50% of 3-6 year old girls were worried about being fat, and about one third of them said they wanted to change something about their body (British Journal of Developmental Psychology).

Fatphobic messages come from everywhere. It’s impossible to live in our society and not internalize a fear of being fat. This fear of being fat is externalized to others in the form of shaming others for their weight and feeling justified for hating fat bodies.

When viewed through the lens of discrimination, there is simply no justification for fatphobia. We have learned so much in terms of fighting against racism and sexism, but hatred of fat is deeply ingrained and is the only form of discrimination that we do openly and without shame.

Being afraid of fat gain lies at the heart of most eating disorders, and our society does nothing to help us recover from internalized fatphobia. Most people who have negative body image and eating disorders are living in average or larger-sized bodies. Most never become medically underweight. This means that they are praised for weight loss when it happens and feel ashamed when they gain weight.

Parents who want to help their kids avoid eating disorders, body hatred, and disordered eating must teach their kids to be intolerant of fatphobia. This means speaking out every time a fatphobic comment is made, not spending time with friends and family members who are fatphobic, unfollowing social media accounts that are fatphobic, not watching shows and movies that are fatphobic, and supporting body diversity.

It will take time for our society to understand that fatphobia is just as toxic as all other forms of discrimination, but you can be proud to have your child(ren) at the front of the movement towards body peace and acceptance.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate their kid’s eating disorder recovery. Ginny has been researching, writing about, and supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

See Our Parent’s Guide To Body Image And Eating Disorders