One of the topics that I get asked to write about most often is how we can parent our children in a way that encourages them to grow up into self-loving, body positive adults. Body positive parenting is something very close to my heart as I try to raise my seven-year-old daughter to really love and accept herself and her body just as she is.
I think the reason why people are so keen to learn about body positive parenting is down to the fact that we all remember too well the hurtful and harmful things our own parents said or did while we were children. Whether your lasting memory is of your mother encouraging you to lose weight as a ten-year-old, or your Dad commenting on your fat belly as a young teen, or simply remembering hearing your parents complain about their bodies and harping on about diets every day for years… we all remember. The things that our parents said and did shaped us. And now we’re so conscious of what we’re saying and doing around our own children, and how that might shape them.
The most important thing to remember is to be compassionate with yourself. Parenting is hard. There is no right or wrong way. It’s not a competition. We all have our own circumstances to wrangle with. So, before you set off on Project Bopo Parenting, remember to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that as long as you’re trying to do right by your kids you’re a damn good parent!
With that in mind, I’ve narrowed down my top tips for parents to three simple things we can all do, starting today, at home that will bopo-ify our homes, our minds and our children’s futures!
1. Body Shaming Be Gone
How many times has your daughter/son heard you complain about your body, or shame somebody else’s body? How many times have you absent-mindedly commented on how much you’d kill to have X Persons long lean legs, or Y Persons flawless skin while your kid(s) were present? Does your child regularly see you grimace at your reflection in the mirror, or notice how you take twenty selfies in twenty different poses before you finally choose one that’s just right?
Stop it! Your kids see and hear EVERYTHING, and while you might say or do it in passing with little or no thought for the consequences, they are storing that brief memory away in the folder titled “Why I Should Hate My Body”.
This isn’t as easy to do as it sounds. Remember that you’re someone’s child too. And you’ve been conditioned your whole life to believe the things you believe and behave in the way you do. So, don’t expect yourself to do a complete turnaround overnight. But start trying. Start noticing what you say and do. Start how often you say or do it. And start trying to slowly but surely phase anybody shaming out of your home.
2. Ditch the Diet Talk
We’ve all been raised to believe that it’s a parent’s responsibility to feed their children healthy nutritious foods and keep them fit and strong, right? There’s nothing wrong with that idea at all. There is something wrong with how we’ve been executing it though.
The focus we’ve been placing on health has created the idea that some foods are good foods and some foods are bad foods. Even worse than that is the association this creates in the minds of our children that if they eat good foods, they are good people and vice versa. This is HUGELY problematic.
As we keep hammering this idea of good foods and bad foods into our little ones, is it any wonder that the average age of a girls first diet has dropped to just EIGHT YEARS OLD?
So, what can you do in practice as a parent to stop that process in its tracks and save your kids from the ever-increasing risk of eating disorders?
Be careful how you talk about food. Instead of talking about healthy foods and unhealthy foods, try talking about how some foods are great for our bodies, and some are great for our minds. Make sure to emphasise the importance of looking after both. I often talk about how our meals make our bodies AND our minds happy by including foods that are packed with nutrients AND taste delicious. This is a much healthier way to raise our kids as they grow up believing not that food is their enemy, but that it’s their friend.
3. Create Conversations
We’re all so afraid to have real conversations with our kids. We want to wrap them up in bubble wrap and protect them from the harshness and complexity of the real world, don’t we? But are we doing more harm than good by sheltering them too much?
I think that it’s impossible to be a body positive parent without creating body positive conversations around the dinner table, during bath time, or just while cuddling on the couch in front of the telly.
When an ad for the latest beauty product comes onto the screen, talk to your little one about how they use special computers to change what models look like and make them look “perfect”. Talk to them about the very idea of the “perfect” body. Ask them what they think. Ask them if they think it’s important to look “perfect”, or if it’s maybe more important to be kind. Talk to them about how there’s no black people in wheelchairs on the program you’re watching. Ask them if you think that’s good or bad.
I was very nervous when I began having these sorts of conversations with my daughter. I was worried she wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, or that she’d have no interest. But I was amazed by how clear her understanding of it all was, and how strong her opinions on topics related to body positivity are. I quickly realised that she was well able to think and talk about beauty standards, diet culture and mental health, and I can see the positive impact it’s having on her already!