Fostering Healthy Body Image

Body image issues can develop at a young age, impacting a child’s ability to enjoy life and form close relationships. Body image is developed through the messages we hear from others and those we tell ourselves, how we see ourselves in the mirror, messages we receive from the media and social media, and how we feel in our bodies as we move.

A healthy body image and positive self-esteem promotes:

• Feelings of confidence

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• Willingness to try new things

• Ability to make new friends

• Ability to deal with stress

• Assertiveness skills and being less vulnerable to bullying

The Social Media Fallout

Constantly accessible images portrayed and shared on social media platforms like Instagram, tik tok, magazines and e-zines, and Facebook have a strong impact on how we view ourselves. Unrealistic images can have a negative effect on how you and your children view their lives and their body which can produce feelings of low self-worth or self-esteem.

“… negative body image is not just a ‘girls’ problem.’ Children of all genders are vulnerable… the attitudes expressed by adults in your child’s life matter”

~ Kelty Mental Health

Every day unrealistic images of the ‘ideal body’ bombard media and social media platforms – be it the pencil thin model or a sculpted ‘Dorito’ with a huge chest and shoulders and washboard abdominal muscles. This look is “achieved” by only 1 per cent of the population and it is usually accomplished with much help from digital, physical and/or cosmetic enhancements. That means the remaining 99 per cent come in various shapes and sizes. Teaching yourself and your family to be critical of messages in the media promotes skills that help them set realistic expectations for themselves and others.

Strategies That Help Children Feel Good About Themselves

Role modelling healthy behaviours and attitudes is one the most important things you can do to help your child develop a positive body image.

In order to do this, it’s important to understand your own attitudes towards food, exercise and your body. Consider these questions: As a parent or caregiver, what are the messages you’re sending? Are you dissatisfied with your shape, size and weight? If so, do you talk about it? Are you always on, or talking about going on, a diet? Do you express guilt when you eat certain foods or make negative comments about what other people eat or look like? Having an awareness of one’s own attitudes can help pivot your responses and guidance related to healthy body image.

• Place less emphasis on your child’s appearance and more on their abilities and skills.

• Help your child understand that their body will change, especially throughout puberty.

• Accept your body and maintain a positive attitude towards food and exercise.

• Make time for family meals and enjoy time spent being active together.

• Avoid categorizing foods as “good” or “bad”. Labelling foods as “forbidden” only makes that food more desirable. Instead label foods as “every day” or “sometimes” foods.

• Listen and respond to your hunger and fullness cues: eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full. Teach your child to do the same.

• Remind yourself and your child that healthy eating is flexible. It allows for sometimes eating more than your body needs or occasionally eating foods that might not be considered healthy. Your body will make up for it later. It’s more important to look at the big picture. Ask yourself: Did I and my child make mostly good choices over the course of the week/month? Do I usually stop eating when I’m full?

• Avoid using food as a punishment or a reward as it gives food more importance than nourishing the body. Reward good behaviour with non-food items such as extra playtime, a hug, a smile or any other positive encouragement.

• Think and encourage your child to think critically about messages and images they see and hear in the media.

When it comes to screen time think quality over quantity. For example, online learning, homework and keeping in touch with family and friends via Zoom, Skype FaceTime can be quality time spent; whereas eight hours of TV/movies, gaming and social media exchanges, may not be. Limit non-essential screen time to less than two hours per day.

• Teach your child that it is okay to show emotions such as sadness, anger, and frustration.

People with a positive body image recognize and accept that:

• Healthy bodies come in different shapes and sizes.

• Body size and weight do not predict happiness, success, or health.

• People are more than numbers on a scale; every person is a unique individual with admirable talents, skills, and abilities.

• Images in the media are unrealistic and are created to sell products.

Being a positive role model for healthy behaviours supports children to become all they can be and more. Trust that your child’s inner confidence and personal power will develop over time.

For more information visit:

• Kelty Mental Health Raising Kids with a Healthy Body Image: A Guide for Parents of Young Children

• MediaSmarts Information that will help you talk to your kids about media images.

• Unlock Food Article: How to Raise Kids with a Healthy Body Image

Areli Hermanson
Areli Hermanson
Areli Hermanson is a Registered Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist with Island Health. She has (and loves) two very active, button-pushing and somewhat-picky boys at home and has high-hopes for the new Food Guide.