Through our interactions with our parents we learn how to interact with others, how to behave in certain situations, how to express our emotions and ourselves , what others expect of us and what is normal and acceptable. Parents teach us norms and values but also many social and cultural aspects of life. Our parents are the first source of what we consider as representation of the truth and they shape our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. Parents thus can also impact how a child feels and thinks about their body.
Parental comments regarding body shape, weight and eating behaviors are one of the most important and crucially influential factors on the development of body dissatisfaction and it is also related to the development of eating disorders in both genders among adolescents and young adults.
Negative parental comments reinforce social norms of thinness and the definition of beauty. Negative parental comments often express criticisms about weight, shape, eating habits and fitness of the child. It can also take form in non verbal behavior that demonstrates disapproval, teasing, pressurizing children to change certain behaviors and food restrictions, which increase the pressure to lose weight. Daughters are more teased for being fat or out of shape; whereas sons are more commonly teased for being too thin or lacking in muscles. Family teasing appears to impacts both male and female body-image; however, it was found to be more strongly correlated with male bulimic tendencies, depression, low self- esteem and drive for thinness .
Comments that stress the importance of the body’s weight, size, shape and its comparison to their peers relate more significantly to eating disorders than to body dissatisfaction. A parent, who has negative body image can indirectly promote body dissatisfaction in a child too through modelling of own strict diets, excessive exercise regimes, frequent fat talks and over-preoccupation with own body issues.
On the other hand, a parent who has a positive body image, who encourages a child to follow their healthy and positive body image behaviors and attitudes will foster a healthier body image in the child. Positive parental comments are comments that encourage embracing one’s beauty as it is, as well as, being supportive and encouraging the child to be her/himself . The parents also discourage the pursuit of appearance change as a way to achieve the perfect body and focuse more on having a healthy body, nurturing, self- acceptance and self -care. Research findings suggest that parental positive body comments can serve as a protective function against body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. This protective function is stronger for young women.
When it comes to developing body image and healthy behavioral habits it is thus crucial that parents would be more mindful of their comments and non verbal behaviors towards their child, but also of their own behaviors, habits, thoughts and non verbal reactions about their own body and appearance as they shape and strengthen the child’s body image too.
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