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6 powerful lessons children can teach about body image

| JUN 7, 2018

My children and I were looking at photos from a few years ago and we came across one of me just after my third child was born. I said something I’m very conscious I shouldn’t do, especially in front of my daughters.

“Crikey, I was SERIOUSLY fat!”

My 10-year-old son immediately said “You don’t look fat Mummy, you look lovely, and you shouldn’t say that about yourself because it’s mean and it’s naughty to be mean even if you’re doing it to yourself”. I was incredibly impressed with his maturity and sensitivity (not sure where he even learned that!) but it also really hit home, he is right, it is mean and I spend so much time being really horrible to myself. That inner critic constantly picking holes, berating and being a total bee-atch.

I realized that young children don’t have that inner critic, certainly ones that are blessed enough to be part of a stable and loving family. They’re also free from all those negative thoughts about their bodies that we eventually gain as society creeps in.

So, here are some things I think we can learn from children and I’m going to try to apply some of them;

1. Children don’t have an inner critic (because it’s a meanie)

My son’s absolutely right; I wouldn’t say what I said about anyone else. I probably wouldn’t even think it. If I were to take the things I regularly say to myself, sometimes out loud, and imagine I were saying them to a friend or about someone on TV – this is how bad it would sound;

Scenario: friend trying on a dress in a shop.

Me: You look f******g disgusting, you seriously need to stop eating bread and pasta. Look at all that jiggly fat, you’re hideous.

Scenario: husband cooks dinner, it’s not bad, but it’s not a Masterchef winner.

Me: This is a total disaster, a complete waste of time, why did you even put this on the plate? Might as well have just opened the fridge and emptied the contents straight into the bin.

Next time your inner critic rears its ugly head, simply ask yourself if you’d say the same thing to a friend or family member.

2. Children don’t feel guilty

It’s a Birthday party and they eat biscuits and cake, enjoying them wholeheartedly. They then rush off and carry on playing without giving another thought to what they’ve just eaten. We on the other hand eat it, telling ourselves we are ‘allowed’ to enjoy it because it’s a special occasion, then spend the rest of the day working out how we can ‘atone’ for our sin the next day by eating no carbs or doing an extra long run.

Try, for just one treat meal, not to think about it again afterwards and see how liberating it is.

3. Children marvel at what their bodies can do

Mummy look at me! Jumps off the lowest step with the glee of having tight rope walked across the Grand Canyon.

Mummy look at me! Does some very dodgy skipping, a half baked rolly polly, a terrible dance move… all with such joy that their body was able to do that.


We grown ups on the other hand take everything our bodies do for complete and utter granted. We never even stop to notice the cool things we can do without even thinking – threading a needle, touch typing, putting on make-up. Let alone giving birth or breastfeeding. After those two in particular, we spend so much time focusing on how fat we look or how we’re not producing enough milk that we fail to notice the miracle we’ve just performed.

Next time you do anything with your hands, like cook dinner, stop to appreciate how incredible your body is. Appreciate it rather than deprecate it all the time.

4. Children have an ‘off’ switch

Children rarely eat so much they feel sick, especially when they’re very young.
They’re often told they have ‘eyes bigger than their tummies’, asking for the
second slice of cake but stopping after one mouthful because they know they’ve
had enough.

We, however, accept that second slice, feeling like we really shouldn’t, and push
through the ‘I’m full’ messages our tummy sends like it’s some kind of endurance
test. Christmas lunch is a prime example, you wear your indigestion and bloated
tummy like a badge of honour – evidence that you’ve had a wonderful time.
The Japanese have a saying that means to stop when you’re 80% full – “Hara
hachi bun me”. We have an entire industry of indigestion remedies to deal with

the aftermath of stopping when we’ve eaten 80% more than we needed.
Next time you notice the beginnings of the full feeling, stop eating and I bet you’ll
feel a lot better than normal. I even think that years of thinking I had a problem
with wheat were unfounded, it’s just too easy to eat too much in one sitting. Like
an enormous plate of pasta. If I don’t eat too much in one go, I feel fine.

5. Children live in the moment

They have no need for meditation courses or mindfulness apps, they do it
naturally. Children have the inner minds of Buddhist monks. I often say to my
husband, while we’re eating lunch, “what shall we have for dinner?”. Children
don’t ask what’s for dinner until the second before they sit down. They give their
full attention to the game they’re playing or the TV show they’re watching,
whereas we have constant chatter in our minds (usually that mean inner critic
jabbing away at us). It’s a hard one to silence, so next time it’s going on at you,
really pay attention to whatever you’re doing in that moment (even if it’s just the
washing up) and the voice will disappear.


6. They don’t look in the mirror!

At a very young age children don’t even realise it’s their reflection they see and
will reach out to touch the person staring at them. It’s fascinating to watch. As
they get older, they only look in the mirror to make funny faces or see something
specific like some cool face paint or a funny hat. They never, ever, have a final
sideways check to see if their tummy looks big or glance backwards to see what
their bottom looks like. They’re just not interested. Challenge yourself to leave
the house without checking the mirror and don’t sneak glances in shops! Just
check your skirt’s not tucked into your knickers.

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