Building Positive Body Image, Health & Nutrition

  • Health and Wellness
Cindy Hewatt, LMFT

What comes to mind when you think of someone who has a positive body image?  Some people think that the person loves everything about their body, seeing themselves as attractive, popular, or good at sports.  But, when a person has a positive body image, they understand that their sense of self-worth does not depend on what they look like.  Having a positive body image means accepting and appreciating the whole of one’s body (so called imperfections and all-because no one has a “perfect” body), including how it looks and what it can do.  When someone has a positive body image, how they feel about themselves is stable.  Yes, they can still wish that the zit on their forehead would go away, they may realize they use a wheelchair, they all have challenges and strengths, but how they feel about themselves in general remains positive. 

When we have a wide perspective of what beauty is (and I’m talking about the beauty of what makes each of us special and amazing), we can see and appreciate the variety of qualities and attributes that are around us, and that we have. Our beliefs about body image can come from family, culture, community, social media, and other influences in our world.  In the past, it was believed that poor body image was more of a female issue, but it is now believed that especially in adolescents, males, and females both can experience similar levels of body dissatisfaction.

Encouraging Positive Body Image

There is a great deal of research on creating positive body image. One enormous factor:  family support and encouragement for us to be our authentic self.  If we subscribe to a very narrow concept of beauty, or how we should be, what happens if we don’t fit that standard? We begin to compare ourselves to others and criticize what we think does not fit that standard.  It becomes much harder to appreciate and value ourselves.  Being mindful as parents of how we talk about our own bodies is very important.  Do we focus on health, or do we say things like “I’m feeling or looking fat” or use language about how we are not acceptable as we are?  Consider saying “I realize I have more energy when I eat better,” commincates there isn’t anything wrong with me, but I feel better when I make healthy choices.  This can be empowering.  These messages can influence little ears around us and shape how they think about themselves. 

Social Media, Mainstream Media, and Comparison

With the easy access we all have to digital media it is easy to fall into the “How do I compare to them?”.  It is important to consider that it is very easy, with the technology at anyone’s fingertips, to digitally alter any image.  Many of the images we see are what that person or the media feels is the ideal. No one should feel that they need to compare themselves or compete with another’s idea of what is ideal.  If we try to, we end up focusing on our “flaws,” we can feel embarrassed, or ashamed, even to the point of not feeling comfortable in our own skin or being authentic.  This can lead to depression, shame, low self-esteem and/or poor body image.  

Supporting Our Children

So as a parent what can you do? 

Becoming more aware of your own level of self-acceptance is key.  Do you have work to do to be more loving and accepting of yourself?  From there you can model the positive love and acceptance of yourself that you want your child to have.  How do you talk about differences you see in people?  What assumptions do you make about them and how can you challenge those if you find yourself comparing yourself to them? 

How does your family set boundaries around social media use and talk about what your kids are drawn to? What draws them, to certain content? How does it make them feel, and how does it make them feel about themselves? 

When you talk about food, is it in a healthy way?  Food is the fuel the body needs to do all the amazing things it needs to do and can do.  Learning and teaching your children about portion size, how to build a healthy meal (a protein, fruits/veggies and grains, and the role of fat in a healthy diet) and getting kids involved in cooking.   No, a bowl of ice cream is not dinner, balance is the key and how does your child learn to create balance for themselves as they get older. 

How active is your family?  Are there activities you all enjoy doing together.  Being outside is a wonderful way to connect to nature and stretch yourself physically and sooth yourself emotionally.  Going for nature walks, a hike, being on the water on a paddle board, hitting golf balls, whatever activities you love, you will do more of and enjoy.  This can build lifelong interests that your kids will enjoy and help to keep them active and healthy for their lifetime.  

Remember that they watch you and learn from you. 


About the Author

Cindy Hewatt, School Counselor, LMFT

Cindy holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has been a practicing clinician for over 20 years, with almost all of that being in non-profit/alternative school settings. She has worked with children from preschool to high school and enjoys each developmental stage for its own strengths and challenges. Aspen Academy drew Cindy with its small class sizes and custom learning approach for each child. With the understanding that each child has their unique talents, strengths and struggles, it is our privilege to help each student find their best selves by providing a safe, creative and enriched environment.

Outside of school Cindy enjoys spending time with her daughter, a new Aspen Academy student, Ellie. Cindy also enjoys creating art, cooking, reading and exploring the outdoors.