Does Our Body Image Language Affect Our Children?

Monkey see, monkey do, it is said. More accurately, monkey see, monkey learn and internalize and make for their own, then monkey do as a result. As human beings, we learn through observation. Specifically, our foundational learning takes place by watching and observing our parents or caretakers. We learn to mimic their faces, the sounds they make, and the ways they behave. What we see around us is our authority. We take everything at face value until we can think for ourselves in a way that lets us make our own decisions, attach our own meanings, and develop our own behaviors.

Much of what we see and learn has a deep impact on us and becomes ingrained into our subconscious, like body image. Our ideals about body image and our understanding of a relationship to the body comes from our parents or caretakers. We think our parents are something close to perfect when we are young. If Mommy is looking in the mirror and body-shaming herself, we take that seriously. What if what is wrong with Mommy’s body is wrong with our body? What if we need to feel the same way about our body that Mommy feels about her body? If Mommy cannot love her body, perhaps we cannot love our body either. We gain the insecurities, the criticisms, and the lessons body shaming has to offer when we observe someone we love engage in their own body image behaviors.

A contributor to Psychology Today reports on a new study which analyzed the impact of body image language and the effect on children, specifically a daughter. Body image language was narrowed down to what the researchers deemed “fat talk”. According to the author, the researchers defined “fat talk” as “verbalizations of self -deprecating evaluations of ones own body”. “Fat talk” might be a reinforcer of messages coming from the outside world which shames “fat” and emphasizes the ideal of thinness or being “skinny”. Poor body image has a widespread affect, which can result in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and general low self-worth, which can lead to problematic behaviors in eating. The study did find that increased exposure to “fat talk” resulted in greater challenge for children to “eat mindfully or to appreciate their body either generally or in terms of how their body functions.”

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