Did you know that there is a frightening number of little girls who are convinced that they must go on diets to lose some weight weight that is often still baby fat they will lose anyways? This leads to their throwing away their lunches at school, or perhaps even eating only lopsided meals, such as watermelons, and eschewing nutritional choices such as whole grain bread (carbs!), cheese (fat!), meat (fat!!), or fruit (sugar!). Very often they know nothing of nutrition other than what they have gleaned from grocery store magazines and through word of mouth on the playground. Other times these youngsters find themselves engaging in the “binge and purge” mode of eating, where they will seek to throw up their food within minutes of eating a meal. The long term consequences of this behavior are the very real dangers of anorexia and bulimia.
Young boys are not immune from the body image trap. While they may not binge and purge, they are easily susceptible to trying “nutritional supplements” that will build muscle overnight and do away with all the fat “while you sleep.”
Adults know that a lot of these concoctions do not work at best, and at worst have harmful side effects on the heart and other body systems. These children, however, do not know.
Sadly, as parents we are often to blame for our child’s unhealthy body image. For example, have you ever called your child “chubby”? Playfully referred to him as “fatty”? Told her that if she keeps expanding like that, she won’t fit into her school uniform anymore? Are you a slave to weight loss drugs, tips, tricks, and fads yourself? Are the supermarket rags with their airbrushed and starved models ever-present on your coffee table?
What God Says About Body Image
God is not silent about the issue of body image. As a matter of fact, He is rather specific in His opinion with our obsession about it.
- 1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'
- Psalm 139:13-16
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
(…continued from above.)
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
So, knowing that your child will, at some point, question her or his body image, and perhaps realizing that you need to re-work the way you model a healthy body image yourself, here are some suggestions that will help you and your family to stay away from the fads, the negativity, and the stress of perma-dieting, while embracing a healthy lifestyle:
- Tell you child, often, that s/he is beautiful/handsome and be specific! If you yourself are very critical about your child’s physical appearance, you will have to practice this in front of the mirror for a while, but eventually you will need to see that your child is indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” and it is high time you tell her/him.
Compliment the most flattering features, such as long fingers (great for pianists and guitarists), a graceful walk, beautiful hair, sparking eyes, a joyful smile, …
- Find praiseworthy qualities within your child’s character and mention them often! A compassionate heart, a tender touch for a sick animal, a helpful sibling, a trustworthy attitude, etc… Explain to your child that her/his beauty is not skin deep, but keeps going.
- If you, and/or your child, are medically obese, get help from a physician, not the insert of a supermarket rag that promises diet pills that will let you sleep while you loose weight. Similarly, don’t engage, or allow your child to engage, in the latest fad diets.
- If your doctor confirms, however, that your child is considered normal with respect to weight and size, make sure that you repeatedly assure your child that s/he is just the right size and shape.
- Don’t equate eating junk food with being “bad” and staying away from a chocolate chip cookie with being “good”. In moderation, chocolate chip cookies should be enjoyed by any child (unless there are medical reasons not to give it to her/him).
- Watch TV with your child, and look at magazines together with her/him.
Explain about airbrushing, the tricks of light and shade, and the various other ways that the pencil thin models are presented to the general public. When you watch TV and stumble across the superheroes with the wasp-waist, explain the difference between fantasy women and reality women. Similarly, when the superhero hunk with more muscles that he knows what to do with gallivants across the screen, explain to your child that this is not a real person but just make-belief.
- Do not make disparaging remarks about other people’s weight. Not only is this un-Christ like, but it will make your child live in constant fear of your sharp tongue and quick criticism of her/his own weight.
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About Sylvia Cochran
Sylvia Cochran - Christian Parenting Corner
Sylvia is a seasoned freelance writer, born and raised in Germany. Having been exposed to a variety of religions and traditions due to travel and study, Sylvia has been a student of the Bible for more than ten years, and has for the last four years taught in small groups about Biblical principles, practical Christianity, Christian parenting, as well as the spiritual use of money. Sylvia also provides Free Online Christian Parenting Courses at Suite 101.
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