As time goes by the topic of Body Image seems to be more and more prevalent in our society. Just turn on the TV, grab a magazine, or surf the internet and you will find countless images depicting and celebrating society’s “ideal” body image. This subject can be sensitive for sure and often brings about a negative connotation. Unfortunately the impact this topic can have on individuals, often times adolescents, can leave lasting harm and injury.
One of my close friends from college was impacted by a healthy body image issue brought about by her high school gymnastics coach. Her coach would often make negative comments about her weight and constantly berate her in front of the team. As a result she became obsessive about her body image, developed an eating disorder, and channeled all of her efforts towards losing weight. Despite the encouragement and support from her family and friends; she was unable to resist the compulsion to continue losing weight at a rapid rate. She eventually had to be admitted to the hospital due to serious medical complications. Fortunately she was able to make a full recovery and is doing fine today but the impact of those words from her coach had a lasting effect on her and her family for many years of their lives.
Regardless of size or weight, children can develop a positive or negative view of their bodies from a very young age. Body image disturbances can begin as early as preschool. It’s imperative that parents/guardians and adult role models play a fundamental role in promoting positive body image for their children. When parents and influential role models provide a positive support system, children and adolescents feel emboldened and confident in their ability to succeed. Conversely, children and adolescents who perceive their body image negatively are typically more self conscious, anxious, and isolated. These individuals are at a greater risk for excessive weight gain and eating disorders.
Keep the following in mind when it comes to promoting a positive body image to children and adolescents:
- Be aware of your own body image issues: Children are very perceptive. If they hear you speak of your own body negatively they may pick up on the same concerns for their own. Create a positive environment and lead by example.
- Focus on health, not weight: Leave the numbers out of it. Don’t get caught up on calories, fat grams, pounds, or repetitions. Focus on healthy foods, moderation (practical portion size), fun sports/games, and family/friend involvement. The better we eat and the more active we become, the better we will feel, regardless of our height or weight.
- Find Physical Activities that Fit: All kids are different. Some are natural athletes who love sports while others prefer riding a bike, hiking, yoga, or dance. The most important thing is that they are doing something physically active.
- Watch out for Bullies: Weight related bullying is a real problem in today’s society. If you are concerned that your child is being bullied at school; quickly address this issue with the school counselor and administrator. Other children are probably being bullied as well and your input to school administration will help others who are suffering.
- Myth Busting the Perfect Body: Spend time with your child explaining what they see on TV, online, and in magazines is often manipulated. These photos are often retouched and altered in ways to make the subject appear “perfect”. This is unrealistic and often unattainable, which isn’t a bad thing.
Always remember; there is no perfect height and weight. Slim or skinny doesn’t always equate to healthy. Sound nutrition and a consistent fitness routine are key components to a healthy lifestyle. Stay active, eat smart, remain positive, and always embrace your individuality.
Jay Swisher is the Operations Manager of the Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Community Matters is a blog created by the City of Manassas Park Department of Parks and Recreation. The blog features program updates, announcements of new services, special event notices, or information of general interest.