How do I help my kid develop a positive body image?

The media kids are exposed to makes a big impression, so choose shows, games, and music that reflect positive body-image messages. Your own body image makes a big impression, too. Do you have to love your body? No. But key into how your comments may translate to kids. Also, limit your kids' exposure to age-inappropriate media (watch The Real Housewives after they've gone to bed!). And do activities together that require effort and learning. Here are some ideas:

For girls:

Keep girls active. Get them involved in sports and healthy lifestyles. Find ways to do activities together.
Don't stress weight; stress health.
Make sure girls know they're more than just a pretty face. Placing less emphasis on how girls look helps them value themselves in broader ways later in life. Compliment your daughter on all her wonderful talents, such as her creativity or thoughtfulness.

For boys:

Emphasize health over looks. Talk about what boys' bodies can do rather than what they look like. Make sure your son knows you love him for who is he is.
Check your language. Lots of parents inadvertently send the wrong message about what it means to be a man by using clichés such as "big and strong" or "boys don't cry." Think of other traits to emphasize, such as sensitivity, caring, and honesty.

Ask Our Experts
Was this answer helpful?
Sign in or sign up to share your thoughts


Parent written by Christie B

I have worked so hard to do these things, especially as I watched friends (female AND male) and then my own little sister struggle with eating disorders through high school and into adult life. In fact, my sister still struggles. My little girl, only 5, is a lot like my sister in personality, and already I am seeing worrying signs that she may take after her in other ways as well. She is very tall for her age and actually a perfect, healthy weight for her height, but often worries that she is too fat. We do not let her watch much regular tv, so she has seen very few ads for weight loss shakes and things and we have talked about those when they come up. She does play with Barbie dolls, which I have noticed have become skinnier recently despite curvy Barbies becoming available at the same time. Most of hers are older and blockier though. I always played with Barbies and to me, they looked unreal like any other doll. It never occurred to me that a human could look like Barbie any more than that I could look like P.J. Sparkles! lol But with her I worry...what if it is the Barbies? It is the only thing I can think of. Except, she has heard me talking about having to lose weight in order to be healthy following my pregnancy and then taking psychiatric meds that made me eat like three horses, but we have tried to emphasize that I am not healthy this way and can't even ride my bike, and that that's why I need to lose the weight. Could it be that she is just getting the "weight loss=good" message that I never ever intended to send? My girl is incredibly fit and strong and healthy and (we think) very beautiful. Her creativity has us convinced one day that she will grow up to be an engineer, artist, designer, or rock star, and she is so into science and reading too. She talks of being a ballerina cowgirl astronaut and I can actually see the last one working out. Straight As in school, including the hardest one--behaviour! That is what I want her to see in the mirror, but it seems she often sees something much different. We've watched a Berenstain Bears episode several times that dealt with the issue, but it laid the blame solely on "Bearbie" dolls and has not seemed to help. I should probably get her to a psychologist but I don't want to overreact. I'd greatly appreciate any suggestions!