Low self-esteem and poor body image are often linked to cases of abuse, particularly sexual abuse. At the same time, serious health issues like eating disorders can arise as a result of abuse.
The good news is, there are tons of resources giving advice on how to help your child develop their self-esteem and body image.
I can remember being about six or seven, wrapping my finger around my Barbie’s waist and thinking, “I hope I grow up to look like this”. Big chest, no waist. I was also Princess Ariel’s and Princess Jasmine’s biggest fan. And whether I realized it then or not, my self-image was negatively shaped by their perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect waistline, and perfect fairy-tale ending. Not to hate on the toy industry too much but they haven’t helped little girls understand that their bodies are beautiful, regardless of their size. But that’s a blog post in and of itself…
In my parent’s defense, they were always very careful when it came to helping us understand that our bodies were special. (Actually, my mum had planned not to buy Barbies but between birthdays and Christmas, the relatives filled that Barbie void.) We were happy, healthy kids to begin with and both of my parents were active so it was easier to create a lifestyle in which we were also active and eating well.
Most importantly, they used the Bible to teach us that our bodies were special because they had been created by God. He never makes mistakes; He wanted us to have exactly our eye color, hair color, etc. I would complain about a feature and my mum would say, “God made you that way for a reason.”
What’s more, inner beauty trumps outer beauty any day (even if I didn’t always believe that in my acne-braces stage of life). I believe that I am beautiful because of Jesus Christ, not because of anything in my own heart. It is the love of Christ that makes me truly beautiful. Check out the article linked to Barbie to understand a little better what I mean.
What most negatively influenced my body image (and we’ll even let Barbie off the hook here) was how other people perceived my body.
I’m in 5th grade. In a sea of skinny-minis, I was suddenly smacked in the face with this thing they call puberty. I had a figure and it was automatically assumed that my curves meant I was fat. Sixth grade, I have a teacher who comments, in the middle of class, about how much I eat (this lady had no idea that you do not mess with one of my mum’s kids). Early high school, another teacher targets me as the busty girl who should be wearing coats or baggy jumpers everyday to hide her figure (again…these people picked on the wrong woman’s child).
But wow…talk about ways to demolish a young girl’s image of herself! I can still remember my mother calmly, firmly (with that voice I knew meant trouble) saying into the telephone, “I don’t care what you meant. She’s 12.”
Granted, for teachers, it’s generally understood that you don’t single out a kid like that. Clearly, I had some rare gems those years.
Add on top of that the beautiful actresses on the magazine covers and the ever-increasing peer pressure to be “skinny” and I ended up with a very poor image of myself.
Despite the very admirable efforts of my parents, I viewed myself as ugly, fat, and undesirable. That’s changed greatly over the past few years. I’ve slowly been learning that my looks do not influence my worth.
That story of my childhood aside, my point is this: kids need a good foundation in order to thrive later in life. Work hard with your kids now and when they face struggles later on, whether it has to do with weight or not, they’ll be better prepared. If I hadn’t been raised in a home that had a healthy perspective toward body image and weight, it would have been a lot harder to work through my body image issues.
This list of 15 tips for raising kids with a healthy body image, from the blog Baby Dust Diaries, is my all-time favorite. It’s practical and it’s written by a mum for mums.