Healthy Body Image is Crucial

for Self-Esteem

Kelly was a straight “A” student all through elementary school. She loved to learn, she loved school, and she just knew that she was going to “rock middle school”! She was finally growing up and wouldn’t be thought of as a “little kid”. She couldn’t wait for school to start next fall.

Kelly and her mom went shopping for a new swimsuit for her to wear for summer. Kelly tried on the first couple swimsuits and modeled them for her mom. For every suit that Kelly tried on, her mom made a comment. “That one shows that little pouch in your belly.”, or “oh not that one, your rear end looks too big”, and finally “uh oh, you’ve gotten a little chunky, you’ll have to go with a one-piece suit to hide that stomach.”

Each time her mom would laugh a bit as if it were no big deal. Kelly finally found a one-piece suit that was a color she didn’t really like and tried it on. When her mom said “oh, now that one makes you look slimmer!” Kelly bought the suit.

Throughout the summer, her mom would comment almost every time she went to get a snack or during meal times. “You sure you want cream cheese on that bagel, it’s going to go right to your hips”, or “do you really need another roll with dinner?” Soon Kelly was finding excuses to skip dinner or she would excuse herself halfway through and say she wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel well.

As the summer went on, Kelly discovered she didn’t like going to the beach as much as last year. She felt self-conscious about how she looked in her swimsuit. By the end of summer, when she would agree to go swimming, she would just leave her t-shirt on over her suit to swim.

When it was time for school shopping at the end of summer Kelly’s mom said “come on, we need to get you some new clothes, none of your old ones fit anymore. I tried to tell you that extra bread would go to your hips.” Even though her mom laughed about it, Kelly felt sad. When they went shopping Kelly chose shirts that were baggy and made of material that wasn’t clingy so her stomach wouldn’t show so much.

School started and Kelly just didn’t like it as much as she thought she would. Her and her mom fought in the mornings because it took her so long to get ready. Sometimes she missed the bus and was late to school. But Kelly was worried about what the kids at school would think of her. She didn’t want them to notice how fat she had gotten over the summer.

Kelly began to have trouble getting assignments done on time and complained to her mom and her friends about how “hard” middle school was. Before long, Kelly was throwing her lunch away without eating it at school. She figured skipping lunch would help her slim down a little.

When report cards came out, Kelly could tell her mom was disappointed because she got B’s in two classes instead of her usual A’s. Things continued to spiral downward throughout the school year. Kelly started missing school because she “didn’t feel well”. After school most days she would just go to her room. Many times when her mom came in to tell her dinner was ready, she would pretend to be asleep.

Does this sound at all familiar? Kids who are transitioning into middle school often face issues with body image. In the beginning, Kelly was excited about middle school and this new stage in her life. Her confidence level and self-esteem were high. She was going “to rock” middle school.

What happened?

Middle school kids, especially girls, see lots of physical changes to their bodies as a natural part of their development. They begin to get hips and curves instead of being straight and narrow. Their chest area develops. These changes mean that clothing fits them differently.

Kelly’s mother of course meant well. She wanted her daughter to look her best. But her mother’s comments about her weight, even said in a casual or joking way, did damage to Kelly’s self-esteem. They made her feel ashamed and self-conscious about the changes in her body. As Kelly started to internalize her mother’s comments about her stomach and other changes in her body, her self-esteem and confidence plummeted quickly.

Her lowered self-esteem and confidence affected not only her eating habits but her activities and love of school as well. Kelly became overly self-conscious, covering up her body and skipping meals. She slept through dinner and started doing poorly in school.

Now imagine for a moment that instead of criticizing the changes in Kelly’s body, her mom had instead talked with her and helped her to understand that these changes were a natural part of transitioning from a girl into a woman?

What if her developing curves had been seen as something to celebrate instead of something to be ashamed about?

What if instead of feeling criticized and like she had done something wrong by “eating too much”, Kelly’s mom had actually celebrated the changes with her daughter, maybe with a trip to the spa, almost as a rite of passage?

A celebration of the changes in her body would have added to and reinforced Kelly’s excitement about transitioning into middle school. It would have reinforced that she was growing up and not a “little kid” anymore. It would have boosted her self-esteem and confidence during a time when she needed to be strong enough to deal with the other new experiences of middle school.

Kelly’s first year in middle school could have gone so differently. She really could have “rocked” middle school.

We do the best we can as parents. Many times we parent our children the way we were parented as children.

Think back on your own childhood:

  • What kinds of things made you feel good about yourself?
  • What things didn’t feel good?
  • Did you hear comments from your parents like Kelly’s mom made to her?

Can you remember what year you stopped feeling like you could take on the world and started feeling like the world was something to be afraid of?

So how can you build your child’s self-esteem and confidence as a parent?

  • Help your child identify their strengths and recognize their weaknesses.
  • Teach them how to set realistic goals and a plan to achieve them.
  • Encourage your child to keep trying when something doesn’t go as planned.
  • Let your child take healthy risks.
  • Give your child room to make their own choices.

High self-esteem and confidence are so important to children so that they can grow into healthy, happy, and confident adults. They will face so many obstacles and you won’t always be there to handle things. But if you can arm them with high self-esteem and healthy confidence, they will be prepared to take on the world and conquer it!

(c) Empowering the Youth of Today, 2016