Author: Jessica Tupa

Build a Healthy Body Image for Your Child

Body image is a term which may refer to a person’s perception of his or her own physical appearance, or the interpretation of the body by the brain.

Did you know that 3% of young women and girls suffer from Anorexia? 3-4% of young women and girls suffer from Bulimia. A huge 15% of young women and girls have a disordered eating pattern. Statistical studies show that there is no mental illness that is responsible for a higher mortality rate than Eating Disorders.

With these tragic and horrible facts in mind, we should focus on building healthy body images for our children, especially our girls. As young women grow up in a developed country, more now than ever, they suffer from tremendous pressure to be thin, pretty, sexy, feminine; qualities which may not even be appropriate to their age! How can we combat this and begin to decrease the awful numbers at the top of the page? We need to build healthy body images for ourselves and our children, starting now.

As our young men and women grow up they are often treated differently. Boys are often praised for doing a “good job” or a “good try”, while girls are too often praised for their looks. When little girls are constantly told that they are pretty, they begin to draw affirmation from the praise. This leads to the development of feelings that their self worth is attached to prettiness instead of who they are or how they do things. Yikes. Think about that. You would still love your child if they looked a little different but constant comments on looks will convince your child differently on a subconscious level. This, with the continual and damaging commentary from our society, that women must always be thinner, sexier and more beautiful, creates a no-win situation for our little girls. It provides a breeding ground for a completely unattainable expectation for ones-self regarding body image and looks. And cruelly encourages them to believe that looks are the most important aspect of their identity!

How often have you seen a beautiful woman speaking negatively about their looks? How often have you done this yourself? We all do it, sadly. But that is the first thing we can change. When children grow up with adults who don’t disparage their own looks or their children’s, they are less likely to form negative body images that lead to harmful disorders. Does this mean that we are aiding unhealthy body images by telling our little girls they look pretty? Actually, yes, we may be. For little girls, now more than ever, it is important to be praised for what they do and how they do it, instead of how they look. Wow! OK, this is hard to process, but it isn’t too late to make small changes that could make a big difference to your child’s body image and self-esteem. Why is this important? It’s because so much of this process happens on a subconscious level. Here are some hints.

Don’t be hard on your own looks in front of your child. We all have things that we want to change about how we look. This is partly because we suffer from the same bad programming that our children are exposed to. If we choose not to be negative about our own looks when we are around our young people we are setting a good example for them, and for ourselves.

As dance teachers, we must be careful to say things like,” beautiful job” or “well done” and focus on the execution of technique and the artistry of the dancing, not the SHAPE of the body.

What do we say to our little girls and young women? If it is a habit to comment on how your little girl looks to help boost her confidence you can start by inserting another compliment in place of this. Here’s an example: instead of “you look really pretty today” try “your dress looks really pretty”. Why? When a child hears “you look really pretty” she knows that this is supposed to be good. She will get used to this and think there is something wrong if the “looks compliment” is not given. She may become fixated on this idea that she is supposed to look pretty. The child can change the dress, and if she picked out her dress, you have complimented her on her good taste, not something she can’t change; her looks. This isn’t to say we should never compliment people on how they look. But we should be mindful of what we say and mix in compliments about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

In dance, this can be especially important as dance is visual art that may, at first glance, seem all about looks. Thankfully we are coming into an age where technique and skill are more important than raw aesthetic. Traditionally, dancers have been known to be obsessive about how they look, which is even more reason to encourage positive body image at home. Make sure the place your young dancer trains support positive body image on a conceptual level and avoid programs that focus on weight as a primary criterion for admission. Today, even in the professional dance industry, diversity in shape and size of bodies is now becoming more acceptable than ever. But we have a long way to go. As dance teachers, we must be careful to say things like,” beautiful job” or “well done” and focus on the execution of technique and the artistry of the dancing, not the SHAPE of the body. In an artistic medium that uses the body as an instrument, it is more important than ever to keep those instruments, and the people that “live inside” them, healthy on all levels. A healthy body image means that a person’s spirit can get on with the work of living, growing and learning, without distracting and detrimental fixations of worrying about the way he or she looks. Isn’t that what we want for our children and ourselves?

Below are some resources for this article with information about eating disorder trends in youth, how to combat negative body image and eating disorders, and how to foster non-violent communication.

To learn more about Non-Violent Communication see info on Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD. @ –