This blog is written from the firm perspective that how we talk about body image and other bodies is of supreme importance. The way that we refer to our own bodies and the bodies of others impacts not only the beliefs and feelings we create for ourselves but also the beliefs that others create.
One of the biggest mediating factors related to body image and weight stigma is the continued expression of disparaging comments about the body. With every statement of “I need to lose __,” “I wish I had ___,” or “you need to do ___,” we perpetuate a culture that devalues and punishes every person not living in a conventionally attractive body.
In repeating these statements, and statements like them, it passes on to those you love and is damaging and can be long-lasting.
Body and Weight Talk With Children
There are many things children and adolescents do not know about the world and themselves within it. In the absence of this knowledge, they look to adults to gather an understanding of what to believe and how to behave.
The term “parental weight talk” is defined as “weight‐related communication by parents with their children, such as parental encouragement of their child to lose or maintain weight (child-centered weight conversations), encouragement to exercise/eat healthy without reference to weight (child-centered health conversations), impersonal/indirect weight comments about oneself or others (parental weight comments), and weight criticism/teasing of their children .”
Parents are not the only ones whose conversations around weight, the body, appearance, and value are being listened to and internalized. For anyone who interacts with children, being a role model is something that should be taken seriously, especially as it relates to body image and body talk.
The conversations one has around a child regarding body weight, size, appearance, body image, and self-worth are incredibly impactful and can have long-lasting impacts on their belief system. Research indicates that “child-centered weight conversations, such as encouraging a child to change their behaviors for the purpose of managing their weight, are associated with body dissatisfaction amongst college‐aged women .” Weight conversations are also associated with unhealthy weight-control behaviors .
Children are observing how you speak about their bodies as well as your own, as “frequency of parental comments about their own weight is associated with adolescent use of extreme weight control behaviors .” Children and teens are vulnerable, and any adults that interact with them should honor the trust that children give them and work to teach them empowering belief systems.
Body Image With Friends
The views of peers also have a huge impact on how one views their own worth and body image, whether as a child or an adult. Just as with children, how you speak about someone else’s body matters, as does how you speak about your own body.
You may only believe you are harming yourself when you remark on a part of your body or your weight, but you are also teaching your friends how you view body size. For example, if you say, “I feel huge, it is disgusting” in front of a friend living in a larger body than you, they receive the message that you believe living in a larger body is not only “disgusting” but unappealing to you.
The fair and understandable assumption becomes that the lens through which you judge your own body is the same through which you judge theirs. Changing your body talk to be inclusive, compassionate, and kind not only improves your own well-being but can help to influence a culture of body love in your circle and beyond.
The damage done to one’s body image created by negative body talk has a ripple effect that impacts all those around us and perpetuates negative and archaic societal beliefs. Cutting out disparaging body talk is for the benefit of everyone.
Resources Pudney, E. V., Himmelstein, M. S., Puhl, R. M. (2019). The role of weight stigma in parental weight talk. Pediatric Obesity.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published January 31, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 31, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC