4 ways to help your kids love their bodies



It’s so hard to teach our children to love their bodies. It’s so hard because the media spouts this strange idea that beauty is skin-deep, it is elitist, you’re either born with it or you have to work really hard to obtain it – if you have enough money and willpower. It’s so hard because we look at our own bodies, our post-baby bodies, and wince.

Having two girls, I promised myself early on that I would never ever say anything bad about my appearance in front of them. I shouldn’t at all, really, but you know how girl friend conversations go.

So what do we do at home? We scrunge up our bellies to make funny faces, dance around naked while getting dressed, and celebrate the very able, strong bodies we were blessed with, even if they’re not so strong.

And through this game of pretend, I really started to like my own body more.

4 mantras that parents can teach their children:

1. “I’m beautiful. And funny”

You can’t tell children they’re beautiful enough. Make them believe it, because it’s true. But they’ll only believe your body positive message if it starts with you.

Have fun and take a picture of yourself in a bikini and post it on Instagram – come on, it’s a lot more anonymous than Facebook and you’ll be joining thousands of others. And you may be quite surprised to see a gazillion others celebrating their own imperfect bodies with tiger stripes and newly found post-baby flab.

Read: Are you ashamed of your post-baby body?

Also read: Your perfect post-baby body

Make sure your child understands that outer beauty is random but inner beauty is for life, and it can change her life and other people’s hearts and it can change the world.

But also tell your child she is funny, kind, intelligent, creative, caring, brave and strong. This is the kind of beauty the world needs and this is what really makes you attractive.

2. “There is no such thing as ‘bad hair’”

Mom Sulma Arzu-Brown was horrified when she heard her babysitter telling her 3-year-old daughter that she had “pelo malo” – bad hair – and suggested she had to chemically treat her hair.

Huffington Post reported that she wrote a book for her daughter called Bad Hair Doesn’t Exist, focusing on the “many beautiful forms that black hair can come in and dispel the myth that black hair in its natural state is not good enough.”

Take it from me with thin, volumnous frizzy hair in various lengths. It’s just hair. We spend thousands of rands and thousands of hours taming our hair, so others won’t look at us and go “Sheez, did you see her hair today?”. Boo to that. I’m all for expressing your identity through your appearance and if you want to colour, shave or chop your hair, go for it. But not because you’re ashamed of what you’ve got.

Kids can braid it, ponytail it, alice-band it and generally do so much more than adults can get away with. With a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo and conditioner, and perhaps a spritz of detangling spray like Johnson’s Baby Easy Comb Spray if necessary, your child’s locks will look clean and beautiful, regardless of hair type.

3. “No skin colour is better than another”

It is a message we cannot shy away from, one we should be teaching our children from the day they can look in the mirror. So that when society comes with their crooked messaging, your child is strong and proud and empathetic to others.

Arzu-Brown said to The Huffington Post: “In Honduras... we have horrible phrases like ‘mejorando la raza’ (bettering the race) when we marry someone of a lighter race with ocean and sky-colored eyes. As if we as a Latino people were not good enough for our own selves in our own multicolored skin and different type of hair. We have plethora of spices within our community that distinguishes us as a vibrant culture — it’s so much nicer when we can appreciate all of our sabores other appreciate about us.”

This is as much an issue in South Africa and I want to encourage you as parent to break that chain. It takes courage to break old perceptions but you’re strong enough to do it, for your child’s sake.

4. “We’re all about life and having fun ”

Help your family to lead a healthy lifestyle by having fun, not making a big issue out of it. A beautiful Facebook message by a beautiful Kara Waite sums it up perfectly. She was body-shamed as a child and the scars ran deep. As she told BuzzFeed Life, “I don’t remember a time, growing up, when I wasn’t self-conscious about my body.” 

So when she heard that a friend of her’s 8-year-old daughter got bullied at school because of her weight, her response was strong and inspiring.

She wrote, “…somewhere, there's a little girl being made to feel bad about her body, and that's bad. But what's worse is that, being female in this culture, that body isn't just her body, it's her self.”

Knowing that childhood obesity is a big problem, she advised her friend to be healthy but just have fun:

“Take her outside. Plant a garden. Play in the snow. Play tag. Get a slip and slide and swing set and a hoolah hoop. Buy her a purple bike with bright yellow streamers. Teach her to play an instrument and dance like a crazy person. Buy her art supplies and show her all of the bodies that artists have celebrated throughout history. Feed her good stuff, but have conversations with her while she eats it. Say things that aren't about food. Read great books. Teach her to sew or sing or make balloon animals. Go back outside… Talk about anything but bodies. Turn off the *** TV. Jump in the pool and don't talk about how big your splash is or how your thighs look in your swimsuit.”

Of course, this applies equally to boys.

“Tell her she is beautiful, but say it half as much as you say that she is kind and generous and hysterically funny and at the top of your list of favourite people.

“Love her exactly as she is. Accept her exactly as she is. Like her, too, and let her know it. Fill her up with love and like and acceptance so she doesn't learn to get it from cookies and Doritos and sundaes and pizza.”

How do you help your child to love their bodies? Send your comments to chatback@parent24.com. 

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