This is the first article in a three-part body positivity series.
When was the last time you felt good about yourself? As you think of this question, you might be envisioning a time you felt good emotionally or a time you felt good because you looked good. There are “standards” that surround us daily – from Instagram-filtered social media influencers to people we compare ourselves to when we are in-person. We are constantly exposed to a “definition” of what we should look like — and it’s not just us, it’s our kids too.
According to the 2022 national poll from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, they asked parents of children from ages 8-18 about issues related to their child’s self-perception of their appearance.
It states “64% of parents say their child is self-conscious about some aspect of their appearance, including acne/skin condition, weight, hair, teeth, height, and facial features. Parents of teens 13-18 are more likely than parents of younger children 8-12 to report their child is self-conscious about at least one aspect of their appearance in both boys and girls.
Among parents who say that their child is self-conscious about their appearance, 27% feel it has a negative impact on their child’s self-esteem and 20% on their child’s willingness to participate in activities. Nearly one-third of parents (31%) say they notice their child making negative comments about their own appearance. Other parents say their child avoids being in photos (18%), tries to hide their appearance with clothing (17%), or restricts what they eat (8%) due to being self-conscious about how they look. Parents of teens are more likely to report these actions than parents of younger children 8-12 years.”
While body positivity can be a teen issue, children as young as ages 3-5 are experiencing body image issues, according to a 2016 study by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years. That means instead of worrying about learning the alphabet and how to color within the lines, children in preschool and kindergarten are concerned about the way they look.
Best friends Alison Rampa and Erica Chiseck are not surprised that children as young as age 3 are concerned with their body image. They too have struggled with their body image.
After listening to an episode of the “Maintenance Phase” podcast, Rampa and Chiseck were inspired to create a summer camp for overweight women in hopes of inspiring women of all shapes and sizes to love themselves.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity for women of all ages to have an adult summer camp,” Rampa says.
In 2022, Camp Roundup was established in Newark, Ohio, just outside of Columbus, to help overweight women have the opportunity to be surrounded by other women in a body positive environment.
People of all shapes, sizes and appearances get criticized for the way they look — and not just for body types.
According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll, it states “parents indicate that their child has been treated unkindly due to their appearance by other children (28%), strangers (12%), other family members (12%), teachers (5%), and health care providers (5%). Two-thirds of these parents believe their child was aware of the unkind treatment. Parents’ most common action in response to their child being treated unkindly is talking with their child about the incident (63%). Less often, parents keep their child away from the person making unkind statements (33%) or speak to the person who made the unkind comments (27%).”
Dr. John Layke offers a unique perspective to the conversation of body positivity – he is a plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, Calif. and his book, “No Body is the Same, A Book About Body Positivity,” was written for his three children, especially his daughter.
“Body positivity is a social movement that says we should accept all bodies regardless of shape, size, skin color, you name it,” Layke says. “Be confident in your own skin.”
Layke adds he wants his kids to focus on those positive attributes rather than worry about their physical appearance.
“We all have dark brown eyes and my son is the only one with hazel eyes,” he says. “At first, he thought it was a negative thing. We turned that around and showed him that he’s special. You say he’s special, then the other kids say, ‘Well, you know, what about me?’ and then you start picking out some of the unique and positive traits that they all have, and I think that’s what parents really need to do.”
“Kids are so impressionable,” he adds. “When you’re walking around the grocery store, your kids will say, ‘why does that person look like that?’ The idea is we’re trying to teach them respect, but also the fact that we’re all unique. The idea is every single one of us has different characteristics.”
Being a Role Model
It is important for parents to be aware of their language and their actions around their kids, including how we view ourselves. How many of us parents have said or heard others say “does this dress make me look fat?” or stare at a mirror and sigh to say “I hate (body or hair type). I wish I could have (fill in blank of wants.”) While parents may think these actions are harmless, children internalize these actions and begin to hyper-analyze themselves, too.
For example, in 2022, the term ‘almond mom’ became popularized on social media, particularly Tik Tok. An ‘almond mom’ is a mother (or dad) who ‘only eats a few almonds every day’ and is very concerned about portion control and how much they are eating. ‘Almond moms’ will typically eat what most would consider a snack, such as almonds, for dinner. The idea is that these types of parents get full after eating a very small amount of food.
Not letting your child explore food options or making comments about your own food choices can be detrimental to their body image and the way they think about food. Parents should always encourage their children to have healthy eating habits.
“I have always been very cognizant of how (my daughter and I) talk about food and how we talk about calories and how we talk about weight,” Chiseck says. “So I make sure that we talk about food from a neutral standpoint.”
It’s not just for kids to be positive about themselves, but for parents, too.
“Surround yourself with positive influences,” Rampa adds. “Surround yourself with positive self- talk. Go look at people who look like you and are being fabulous.”
“I think that body positivity for me is being confident in your own skin, knowing your limitations, accepting them and trying to be the best version of yourself,” Layke says. “So I think for me, it is recognizing our limitations, focusing on our positive attributes, trying to be the best version of ourselves, and I think if everybody does that, you can be accepting of everyone else, including yourself.”
Social Media And Body Image
Negative feelings kids have about their body can also be associated with social media use. In a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, 95% of teens ages 13-17 use YouTube, 67% of teens use Tik Tok, and six in 10 teens use Instagram and Snapchat. Social media can expose impressionable children and teens to unrealistic body standards.
According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll, it states “while 41% of parents say their child’s view of themselves is affected equally by in-person interactions and by social media, 43% say their child is more affected by in-person interactions and 16% more affected by social media. Parents who report their child is self-conscious about their appearance are twice as likely to say their child is more affected by social media.”
“There’s always going to be societal traits that are considered beautiful,” Layke says. “I think the difference with social media is now they create these filters so everybody can look like that. I have people coming to the office saying ‘can you make me look like this filter?’ It’s a distortion of reality. I just think we’ve never looked at ourselves so much in our lives. Everybody’s continuously posting photos. I just see these kids that are uploading images every single day and they’re tweaking them and putting filters on them. Even the influencers that everybody is flocking towards, they come here to the office, and most of them don’t look like the heavily-filtered versions of themselves that they post on social media.”
It is important to teach kids to consume content that makes them feel good and follow influencers who celebrate all types of people.
Robyn Taylor of Cleveland says she treats her daughter like a child and not like an adult.
“I am making sure she enjoys her childhood,” she says. “Due to the internet, I think children of today are exposed to things that aren’t age appropriate. The children are growing up too fast.”
That’s why, having a conversation with your child about body positivity is important.
“I would say start talking to your child as early as possible,” Layke says. “When things are introduced really early, they no longer become an issue because it becomes a way of life. So, with my sons and my daughter, they’ve been making their bed every single morning because that’s just a pattern that we set into place. Now try telling a 10 year old for the first time ‘Hey, clean up your room, make your bed,’ it becomes really difficult. Same thing with the way you view others. You introduce the concepts early. Say ‘listen, you are going to see many different people from all walks of life and you have to respect everybody.’”
Taylor notes she tells her daughter when people say negative things, it’s about them, not you.
“I tell her to gravitate toward positive (influences), people that make her feel good,” Taylor says.
She adds, while her daughter has to learn to deal with these things as a kid, negativity happens in adulthood, too.
“I make sure to let (my daughter) know she is loved and protected,” she says. “She is happy, I just tell her to love herself.”