Bullying has received increased attention in recent years because of its prevalence and serious effects on self-esteem and mental health.
Weight shaming is a common form of bullying among children and teens. However, it's often overlooked due to the widespread anti-obesity messages prevalent in our weight- and image-focused society.
Being stigmatized by weight can have serious effects. If your child has experienced weight shaming or is dissatisfied with how they look, here are some things you can do to help.
1. It's important children do not associate their bodies with the perception that they are liked or not liked. Explain that their body is part of them and, oftentimes, is changing because they are still growing. But it doesn’t make them who they are. You can ask them what they like about their friends and point out the reasons they list that are not related to their friends’ bodies.
2. It's critical that there is no focus on their weight or changing their body. Avoid all conversation about appearance or weight. Comments focused on other people’s weight or appearance send the message that it is something of value they should be concerned about. A child's self-esteem needs to be formed on something other than his or her appearance. As a parent, you can help promote self-esteem by focusing on positive internal qualities your child possesses, including kindness, imagination, intelligence, etc. One idea is to start a family tradition where everyone names one thing they like about each other every night.
3. Be mindful of how you talk about your own body. Kids learn their body image largely from their parents. Your child will be much more observant about how you feel about your own body if he or she is unhappy with their body. So be sure to demonstrate how to care for and appreciate your own body so that positivity will spill over onto your child. You can do this by not being critical of your own body. Instead, recognize what your body does for you and emphasize that you eat and exercise as a way to care for your body.
Krista Godfrey is a registered dietitian who is a certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. She has worked with clients with eating disorders for the past 7 years with the Eating Disorder Program at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, and her private practice, Life Cycle Nutrition. In her work, she not only promotes a positive relationship with food but also with one’s body.