According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 40-60% of elementary school girls, ages 6-12, have concerns about their weight. NEDA also states that half of girls and a third of boys are engaging in unhealthy behaviours to control their weight.
We live in a world where our body size determines how we feel about ourselves, preschoolers understand that thin is pretty and children under 12 are dieting and being treated for eating disorders.
It’s no surprise, since diet culture reigns and media representation of the average person is grossly skewed toward the thin ideal. Common Sense Media reports that 87% of young girls depicted in popular television shows are underweight.
Since body image issues are so prevalent, starting so early and can have lifelong impact, we’ve got to get the message out to kids, that beautiful, successful, wonderful people come in all shapes and sizes.
Body Positive Education
Fortunately, there are some amazing organizations that have already started talking to kids about these issues:
Dove has been providing “Confident Me” materials to teachers and school for over 10 years. These 5-session workshops explore unrealistic expectations around appearance and teach strategies for building body confidence in 11-14-year-olds.
In British Columbia, Canada, teens are getting together for 6-session workshops to talk about pressures from peers, media and society, and to develop healthy coping strategies for body image problems. Kids are walking away with plans for increasing body positivity and helping friends do the same, by identifing current strengths and future aspirations, not related to appearance.
In this Los Angeles Body Positive program for teens of color, kids are discussing issues around eating disorders, tumultuous relationships with food and body image. They are challenging the American beauty standard.
In a fun, 12-week program in California middle schools, these groups are encouraging body positivity, team building and self-confidence through discussion and participation in joyful movement. Activities include hip hop, cheer dance, yoga, zumba and kickboxing.
REbeL is a student-driven program diving into body image and disordered eating, through peer mentorship. The 12- week program focuses on increasing positive body image, breaking free from diet culture and understanding the media’s impact on self-esteem. The challenge here is to redefine beauty.
Check your local school districts, youth centres and community agencies to see if similar programs are offered in your area. If not, maybe you can get one started.
What can families do?
If you’ve got young girls (or boys) in your life, who are worried about their weight, you can help too.
- Focus on lifestyle. Find activities that are fun to do together. Focus on finding movement that is fun, rather than exercise that burns calories.
- Stop diet talk. Make nutritious and fun foods available, being as neutral as possible. Stop talking about good foods and bad foods and focus on how foods make you feel.
- Celebrate diversity. Find the beauty in everyone. If you tend to be critical of others, make a point of trying to pick out the positive with your kids.
- Be body positive! Encourage positive conversation about your body and your kids’ bodies, focusing on what they can do.
Let’s talk to our kids, crush negative stereotypes and build confidence. No matter what size we are, our bodies are amazing.