As the time passes, we as parents can expect age appropriate changes in our children not only in terms of socio- emotional growth but also in terms of physical growth as well.
Basis of parental expectations and body image
Our expectations set the stage for constant comparison between our children and their peer group with respect to bodily shape, size and physical characteristics. These expectations are shaped by our beliefs, complexes, fears, inferiorities, and anxieties, inflexible attitudes and values of acceptance, tolerance, perfection, societal ideas and standards of success and beauty present in media.
Common body image issues seen in children
Often well-intentioned parents give insensitive comments to children which affect their sense of imperfect-or-inadequate bodily appearance.
Children feel negatively targeted in following aspects related to their body and physical appearances:
Overweight or heavy body structure
Teeth (unequal shaped)
Glasses due to eyesight problems
Height, tall or short
Too slim and small body structure
Due to insensitive comments around their physical appearance, children feel offended, upset, hurt, sad, miserable, indignant, annoyed, and emotionally wounded.
Body image issues in Children and Consequences
Children internalise negative bodily comments which become their “own internal negative, critical voice” with the passage of time. Consequently, children come to think, feel and imagine flaws about their bodily appearance which may not be based in reality, leading to a development of disturbed or generally unhealthy body image.
Negative body image affects the psyche of children and builds the following:
Low self esteem
Low self confidence
Failure to accept flaws/weakness of body
Builds negative emotions related to flawed body part
Feelings of hatred
Feelings of embarrassed
Feelings of ashamed
Feelings of inadequacy
Feelings of inferiority
Strengthening of body images issues and bullying
Children’s beliefs and attitudes related to flawed body parts may get strengthened and reinforced when such negative comments are further given by their siblings, relatives or peers. In others words, these children are often teased and bullied by their peers or siblings, which may have long lasting effects on their mind. This may lead to preoccupation about their body flaws and related fears that they may be criticised and labelled.
In reaction, they may feel pressured and try to meet their own expectations of perfection which may itself become a source of constant frustration and tension. It may lead to eating disturbances, obsessing about weight issues, anorexia, binge eating, bulimia, or other disorders.
Alternatively, they may avoid interacting and meeting people due to being criticised about their perceived looks and appearance. They may think how others will think and behave towards them and may misinterpret others behaviours and thinking. They may avoid going out of their home and may become housebound. They may feel persistent anxiety, tension, worry, and sadness due to it.
As a result of poor interaction between them and others, they may feel lonely, rejected, and abandoned. These feelings may strengthen and reinforce their negative beliefs about their body. They may also blame and criticise their own self and think that it is their fault to have imperfect body. This may lead to feelings of loneliness, guilt and sadness.
Here are some tips for you as parents to help you children cope with body image disturbances
Avoid making negative comments, criticising, labelling your child about his/her body size, shape and appearance. Ensure that nobody in the family as well as outside teases or bullies the child about his/her physical appearance.
Encourage and help the child to accept the perceived flaws of the body as being natural and given to him/her.
Other than focusing on importance on physical appearance, encourage your child to attain his focus and attention on other things that are important for success in life such as building talents, skills, capabilities and abilities.
Appreciate your child more when he/she demonstrates specific talents, skills, capabilities than on how attractive or unattractive he/she looks in appearance.
Encourage your child to participate in extracurricular activities and team sports so that the child can hone various skills on a social level.
Encourage your child to develop attitude and beliefs about healthy and nutritional foods. Build habits and keep them in healthy daily routine (while unhealthy or junk food can be allowed occasionally).
Encourage your child to develop regular exercise habits from a very young age. Your child will learn from you. Take out time where both of you can either go for walk, do yoga or go swimming.
If your child is being teased and bullied, bring it up to school administration for taking disciplinary action against them.
Be conscious of what you say to your child about your weight issues, children take a lot of fears and anxieties from their parents.
If your child makes negative comment about his/her body shape, size and appearance, try not to ignore it; discuss its related concerns and fears and ask his/her suggestion if he/she wants to make it better.
Garima is an Eversparks Counselor, and RCI licensed Clinical Psychologist and a Psychotherapist with 8+ years experience as a specalist, operating her clinic in Delhi. Her clinical psychotherapeutic expertise is majorly in anxiety spectrum disorders (such as phobias, panic disorders, OCD), mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder), and other emotional difficulties reflected in personality, relationship, school, and career aspects.
She defines her role as a facilitator in helping people to unstick themselves from inner chaos of their social-emotional-psychological world, helping patients evolve through self-reflection, self- exploration, self-awareness to a psychologically healthy state.