Developing and Supporting Positive Body ImagePrint Page
How we think and feel about our bodies can be internalized from an early age. Because body image is directly related to self-esteem, confidence and overall mental health and well-being, developing and supporting a positive body image among youth is an important opportunity to promote social-emotional health. Furthermore, adults play an important role in modeling behaviors for youth that encourage a happy and healthy relationship with our bodies.
Create a safe, welcoming environment where all types of bodies are valued. Some effective ways of improving the school environment in this way include:
- Providing training for school staff on identifying dialogue that may be suggestive of poor body image, appropriate ways to intervene and opportunities to model positive body image.
- Intervene when you hear negative talk about one’s body, food shaming* and instead use language that promotes body positivity.
- In addition to social-emotional learning, nutrition and physical activity present an opportunity to reinforce positive body image. Avoid labeling food as good or bad, and celebrating youths’ contribution during physical activities, especially when it’s clear they lack confidence in their physical abilities.
- Incorporate opportunities in the classroom to celebrate each other. For example, create a positive affirmation wall where students can write a note to a classroom to compliment or thank them (this could be done anonymously).
*Food shaming happens when we judge others by what they eat, even when the intention is pure. It can result in people feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious about what and how much they’re eating.
Reflect on your own body image. We are able to most effectively support youth when we are socially-emotionally well ourselves. Do you have a positive body image? If not, what are some steps you can take to begin to develop a more positive mindset about your own body?
- Model body positivity. As an adult, be mindful of your self-criticism, especially when in the presence of youth. Use language that celebrates various body shapes, sizes and overall appearances. For example, avoid topics like dieting, losing weight, discussing other people’s appearances, and verbalizing negative self-talk to set a positive example for children.
- Encourage students to express their feelings to trusted adults. Having a trusted adult, such as a family member, teacher or coach, to whom children can reach out provides an outlet for open dialogue when issues related to body image arise. Make it known to that child that you are available to chat, and use conversations as an opportunity to introduce healthy self-talk.
- Proactively talk about body transformations with adolescents. Adolescents may experience rapid changes when it comes to their bodies and overall development. Sometimes these changes produce confusing and/or negative emotions, resulting in feeling isolated, strange or uncomfortable with their bodies. Proactive conversations with adolescents about these changes can help them understand, anticipate and adjust, and can support building self-esteem and minimizing negative self-thoughts.
If you suspect a child is causing self-harm or is at risk of self-harm or harm to others as a results of a poor body image, follow your school’s protocols to refer that child to support.
Use appropriate language to foster body positivity. When discussing body image with children it is important to stress what is “healthy”. When it comes to physical activity and nutrition, children should not have goals of losing weight or cutting calories* (*Unless directed by your child’s doctor ) and should instead focus on eating foods that are high in protein, low in saturated fat, contain little added sugar, and include whole grains. Treats are also perfectly normal in moderation to include in a diet that is considered “healthy”. The only tool children really need to determine their daily caloric needs are their natural hunger and satiety cues.
Avoid comparing children to each other. This could foster insecurity and may result in negative emotions.
Be mindful about how you describe what you and others are eating, as it could come off as food shaming. Even statements such as “I ate poorly over the weekend” or “I’m only going to eat salads this week” can result in unintentional judgment about food that could impact body positivity.
Focus on the whole self. Everyone has something wonderful about them – celebrate that!