As our children grown into tweens, they become more aware of their bodies, and so do others. Body shaming is an awful side effect of the tween years. By definition, body shaming is “the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size.” This can take many forms and is not limited by gender or size. It’s not just fat or thin—tweens may be shamed for their height, their body development (whether advanced or more immature), acne, facial hair, characteristics, skin color or even feet size.
What Can You Do?
So how can parents prevent this horrible type of bullying? It starts at home. Don’t emphasize appearance to your child. This can extend to how you talk about your own and other’s bodies including those you see in public or in the media. Our children are always listening and will model our own behavior.
Instead, experts suggest talking about what incredible things your child’s body can do—play sports, dance, run, play instruments or even jump around all day in the pool. If you are concerned about the health of your child’s body or weight, talk first to their pediatrician or a nutritionist separately about some healthy habits your whole family can adopt.
It’s important for parents to talk with their kids early and often about things like eating disorders, body shaming, food policing and dieting. Whether we like it or not, they will likely be exposed to these issues at school or in the media. We can offer education and support as they navigate the culture in which we live.
How To Help
For parents, listen to your children to recognize if your daughter or son is body shaming themselves or others. If a child begins to take extra long to get ready or regularly complains above the norm about their clothing or appearance, they may be having insecurity issues with their body. Similarly, if your child begins to comment negatively and often on people’s appearances, whether it be those in the media, friends, siblings or others, there may be a cause for concern. Again, reiterate those important discussions about how this is a time of change for them and their friends, both in physical and emotional development. Emphasize that our bodies are an agent for our physical and mental health.
Arm your child with ways to deal with body shaming from others. Show them strong examples of confident and successful people who live with all different body types, yet have achieved great success. If children are strong enough to walk away from a body shaming bully with their head held high, they should do so. Body shamers and bullies are looking for a reaction.
In addition, teach them ways to respond to body-shamers. Some good examples include: “If I wanted your opinion, I would have asked.” “Does body shaming make you feel better about yourself?”
Monitor your child’s electronic devices and social media to ensure they are not body shaming themselves or others. In your conversations with your child, encourage them to share any challenges they may have encountered at school with you or a trusted adult who can offer them support and advice. Always repeat the mantra: “Remember that other people’s words do not define who you are as a person.”
As with all kinds of bullying, parents need to closely monitor the situation and assess whether they need to step in and address the problem with the administration and school counselor. To specifically try and boost a child’s self-confidence, look into programs or classes where a child can thrive in a physical activity such as yoga, rock climbing or youth weight training.
To Learn More…
Parents can turn to resources like “Health at Every Size” which celebrates body diversity and encourages methods of self-acceptance.