Katie Davis, RDN, CD
How To Be Your Child’s Safe Harbor From Diet Culture
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
You can’t ultimately control how your child feels about their body. But there are steps you can take to be more helpful than harmful. There are strategies you can use to help build a child’s body positivity and resilience. You might even notice they help you too.
These strategies work by counteracting diet culture. Children are sadly thrown into the deep end of diet culture as toddlers. This begins when young children see examples of fat shaming in popular children’s programs. Or learn in many preschool curriculums that foods are “good” or “bad” so consequently they are “good” or “bad” if they eat them. There is even a hugely dangerous weight loss app called Kurbo geared for children as young as eight!
Your child needs you to be their safe harbor away from diet culture.
A powerful first step is to teach kids they are “more than a body” as proclaimed by Lexie and Lindsay Kite of Beauty Redefined. You can help children understand that the way they look is not the most important thing about them. Talk about all the things their body can do, learn and feel that is not related to their appearance. As another key Beauty Redefined mantra states “my body is an instrument, not an ornament.”
Here are some additional steps you can take to help fortify kids’ resilience when it comes to body image:
Teach kids their body is enough at this very moment -- nothing needs to change.
Remind kids that bodies come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Ditch diets. There are real dangers in dieting and clean eating for kids and teens (as well as the adults who love them.)
Call out Diet Culture when you see it on social media, billboards, tv shows or movies. It might be fat shaming. Or a joke or mean spirited comment about weight or body size. Or advertisements for plastic surgery, clean eating or diet. Ask kids what message is being sold? Who is trying to make money and benefit from the ad or article? How does it make them feel?
Give compliments not related to appearance. For example, “I’m so happy to see you,” or “you’re special to me.”
Give kids a chance to live in a home without a scale. Teach them that they are worth more than a number on a scale.
No comments or “making fun” of bodies or body parts. Ask family members to do the same.
Be positive when talking about any and all bodies -- including yours. If you can’t say something nice about your own body, don’t say anything at all.
Help kids explore ways they have fun moving their bodies through joyful movement, as opposed to forced exercise.
Help kids feel they are loved totally separate from the way they look.