Mothers can follow these steps to instill a positive body image in their children (especially young girls) and help prevent eating disorders.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 40 to 60 percent of elementary school girls (ages 6 to 12) are concerned about becoming too fat or gaining wait. It’s troubling when girls as young as 6 are worrying about the fat content in their lunch boxes. So where are these children picking up their ideas about food, fat, and body image? Their home environment, other kids at school, and commercials and magazines all influence them. Kids start to perceive what fat means just by hearing about it from other peers and adults or by watching TV. They learn that fat is “bad for you” and will make you gain weight. As a result, they don’t want to eat. A majority of my patients have also said that their mothers were very tough on them about how their bodies looked or that their mothers had personal body issues. Generally, later on in life, these young women become binge eaters to rebel against the ideas that were set forth by restrictive mothers. Mothers, then, are the first and most significant female models in their developing daughters’ lives. They are faced with the difficult challenge of modeling positive feelings toward food, eating, and body image. Here are steps that mothers can take to help their school-age girls and to prevent early eating and image problems.
Model a Positive Body Image. Women may have internalized cultural values, such as the importance of thinness, and have difficulty trusting their own needs, desires, and wants. It is key that mothers be aware when they feel bad about their own bodies and when they are modeling a negative body image. Be careful not to use words such as “fat” and “diet” around the home. Young kids, especially girls, are impressionable and susceptible, so teach them to be comfortable with their developing bodies. Convey this with phrases such as, “Honey, that dress really flatters your body” and “You are my beautiful child, inside and out.” Although mothers who struggle with their own negative body image may find this difficult, it’s key to remain cognizant of the language and phrases said in front of daughters. It’s essential that every mother find the strength within to avoid making bad comments about her own body.