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Helping your child maintain a positive body image



Activist and book author Virgie Tovar offers advice to parents

kids, teens, positive body image, parents, weight

With the pandemics decrease in socializing, your teen may be spending extra time viewing the selfies of stick-thin friends on Instagram and Tik-tok, followed by unfavorable comparisons with her own body shape. Or perhaps eating has become a way of dealing with anxiety about the uncertain future. COVID-19 seems to be escalating teens angst over body image issues, says body-positive activist Virgie Tovar. In an interview with Kristen Chase on coolmompicks.com, Tovar, author of the recently published The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, discusses how society contributes to girls self-image issues and how parents can offer corrective views.

Tovar attacks the medical systems “scapegoating of higher-weight people. Its considered a co-morbidity factor. If youre a higher-weight patient, as two-thirds of women are, youre seen as a non-compliant patient. Unless youre trying to lose weight, the attitude is, you dont deserve the same level of care as people who are.” According to Tovar, the American Medical Association declared obesity a disease, against the suggestion of the committee that was assigned the issue, although the committee determined that being overweight does not meet the criteria of a disease.

“Everyone is valuable,” says Tovar. “All food is good food. Everyone deserves equality, regardless of body size.”

As a parent, you have the chance to convey to your daughter that her weight does not determine her worth. Nevertheless, kids bear messages delivered by the media and by schoolmates, and you will have to point out the fallacies of those messages. Even if you have to say the same words over and over, observed Tovar, its okay. Thats what girls need to hear, until the words are embedded in their thought, available at a moments notice as they develop the skills to handle situations where their self-esteem is being challenged.

Parents also have to address their own issues, which is not easy. “Moms face enormous expectations and pressures,” says Tovar. “Were likelier to be the ones prepping meals and dressing our kids, which are triggering moments for us.” While dieting and working out at the gym help us cope, we have to remember that we have our own unrecognized wounds, our own tendencies to believe were not worthy, which gives us the urge to restrict and diet in order to recover a sense of control.

There is no evidence that dieting leads to better health practices or better mental health, says Tovar. “The diet culture actually creates these problems. Eating is good. Your children dont have to be afraid of wanting to eat, and neither do you. Let a sense of joy anchor your activities. Attempting to control a childs eating is highly unlikely to lead to anything but body dysmorphia.”

Sure, its healthy to eat vegetables and to exercise, but dont make a connection between veggies and losing weight or exercise and losing weight. Letting children eat until theyre full affirms natural hunger/fullness signals. In dieting, people lose access to that awareness, creating problems that contribute to eating disorders.

Its fine to advocate for kids at school and at the doctors office, Tovar says. One mother placed notices in her childs medical records, requesting that medical professionals not express concern about the childs body mass index but rather ask how her family promotes mental and physical health. 

You can ask your child questions:

1. When she criticizes her own body, ask, “Why do you think that way? Where did you get that idea? How else could we look at that thought?”

2. When looking at images of size 0 women in the media, ask, “Who does this picture benefit? You and the people you love?”

3. When she compares herself to thinner girls, ask “What makes your body special?” For instance, her body is more muscular from carrying more weight. Point out that the world needs all kinds of people. Different kinds of people bring different perspectives, provide different solutions, make us aware of different kinds of beauty. We create the world together, with all our different skills and strengths.




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