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No Body's Perfect: How To Promote Positive Body Image In Children

A new book teaches parents how to be a body image role model for their child.

30/11/2016 8:58 AM AEDT | Updated 30/11/2016 7:29 PM AEDT
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It's not just girls facing this issue, but increasingly boys too.

"Does this make me look fat?"

"He's SO ripped!"

Such words fall mindlessly out of our mouths all the time and while they may seem harmless, they can actually lead to a lifetime of struggle and self-doubt.

"Body image is one of the top concerns for young people in Australia right now," Dr Vivienne Lewis, associate professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Canberra told The Huffington Post Australia.

"It comes before school, family, friends and career and increasingly, we are seeing what has traditionally been a female issue become more recognisable in boys and young men," Lewis said.

More and more males are presenting with eating disorders or significant body dissatisfaction, and with that, more parents concerned about the messages they are sending their children.

Mission Australia's 2015 Youth Survey Report found one in four young Australians were highly concerned about body image.

Lewis said in the past few years she's seen more and more males in her clinical practice presenting with eating disorders or significant body dissatisfaction, and with that, more parents concerned about the messages they are sending their children.

"Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are all things we are seeing, but also, we see boys who are very obsessed with their fitness and muscle-building," Lewis said.

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Lewis said while there are a lot of resources out there, there isn't a one-stop-shop that addresses the issue and so, she wrote a book, "No Body's Perfect" that provides parents, teachers and counsellors with information on how to be a good role model and talk openly about mental health. Ahead, Lewis reveals her top tips that are featured in the book.

It starts with you

Being a good body image role model doesn't always come naturally to parents. "Often, we've been bombarded with the same images and have our own body hangups," Lewis said.

The important thing however, is to be aware of the sort of messages that you're sending to your child. "Be mindful to try and model behaviours you want to see in your children," Lewis said.

Watch your language

This is about steering away from making appearance comments. "When you talk about people, get used to describing them by the qualities that define them as a person, rather than how they look," Lewis said.

For example, instead of "the skinny lady with really white teeth from work", it should be, "Carol, she works on the reception desk and has a British accent."

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Talk about the function of food, rather than whether it's 'good' or 'bad.'

Focus on the function of food

Rather than talking about food as "good" or "bad", talk about it as fuel.

For example, we eat carbohydrates to give us energy and it helps us to function throughout the day, and sleep better at night. While the sweeter foods that taste "nice" aren't great for concentration and lasting energy, which is why we only have them occasionally.

Celebrate uniqueness

"Educating young people about celebrating our uniqueness is super important," Lewis said.

Really, it's about going back to basics and teaching children that everybody's different and why that's so wonderful. "If we all looked same way, what a boring world that would be," Lewis said.

Talk about mental health

Lewis said it's important to talk to kids about teasing and bullying, and the detrimental effect that could have. "Leading by example is key to ensuring your children treat others with respect."

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Encourage kids to be open about their emotions.

Equally, they should be educating their child about how and why it's so important to seek help when things aren't going so well.

Positive mental health role modelling

"It's important for children to see their parents focusing on their own wellbeing," Lewis said.

This means communicating with people face-to-face, relaxing and engaging in events outside of work.

"The research shows the more time spent on social media, the worse off your body image is -- so parents need to be putting boundaries in place," Lewis said.

No Body's Perfect is out now.

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