5 ways parents can improve their own body image

BY Zali Yager

The majority of women – up to 90%- and many men would like to change something about the way that they look, and in most cases, their weight is the thing they want to change ie., “I just want to lose 5 kg”.

Across the lifespan, we know that, although body dissatisfaction is at its peak in adolescence, it declines slightly in our 20’s, but then stays pretty much the same across most of our adult life. In fact, in most women, body appreciation only increases around the age of 65… to be, 65 is way too late to start enjoying our bodies and celebrating what they can do.

This dissatisfaction actually makes us less likely to be able to sustainably engage in physical activity, and eat well. This dissatisfaction is also linked to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, less engagement with cancer screening – the research just keeps finding more and more negative physical and mental health outcomes of poor body image.

Research is now finding that having a better body image- appreciating our bodies- is good for us. It helps us to engage in health behaviours, to have higher levels of wellbeing, and to be able to role model these positive attitudes and behaviours to our kids.

So how do you improve your body image?

We now have a really good understanding of the sorts of things that can improve body image. Most of these options are free, available, and relatively easy to do- fitting anything else into our busy lives at the moment can be a challenge- but here’s the thing, even starting to do some of these things is helpful in moving you on the path towards body appreciation. It’s a bit of a journey as opposed to a destination thing- here are some ideas to get you on your way.

  1. Practice Self- compassion- We all have a critical voice, but listening to our inner critic does not serve us. Research has found that people with higher levels of self-compassion have lower levels of depression, anxiety, body dissatisfaction, and improved wellbeing. The great thing is that you can work on turning up your compassionate voice, and the more you work on this, the more she will show up naturally to support you. Try starting with some of the meditations from Kristin Neff’s work.
  2. Journaling about body functionality – The Instagram version of loving your body seems so straightforward, but it’s not always that easy, and it’s not always about the way your body looks. Research has shown that having a higher level of appreciation for the functionality of our body can help to lift our overall body image. Start by thinking about all of the things that our body does for us, from our 5 senses, and what they let us do, to our physical capabilities, as diverse as they are. Think about the internal functions our body facilitates for us (like digestion and temperature regulation), the way our body lets us do creating things, and interact with others. Now set a 10-minute timer and write on one of these 5 topics until the timer goes off. You will be amazed at how proud of your body you will feel afterwards!
  3. Move your body – Physical activity improves people’s body image- even a 20-minute session on an exercise bike improves body image. Why? Most people assume it’s because of physical changes to the body due to exercise- but it’s not. Moving your body in a way that feels good brings you a sense of achievement, connection, and mastery that improves your overall wellbeing. So ditch the ‘shoulds’ and just move in a way that feels good to you. Put on some music and dance in your kitchen. Go for a walk in nature. You don’t need to measure it, hate it, record it, or do it wearing certain clothes and in certain places. All movement is invaluable for your body image and wellbeing.
  4. Intuitive eating – Studies have shown that women who eat more intuitively have a more stable body weight, and better psychological health outcomes. This is the ultimate anti-diet and involves trusting your body. Read more about this in Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s classic book .

So there you have it- 4 things you can try. You have nothing to gain by sticking with your negative thoughts and feelings about your body, and everything to gain by changing them.

In our new book ‘Embrace Kids’, Taryn and I talk a lot about how and why you should try to improve your own feelings about your body in order to encourage your kids to have a positive body image. The whole first part of the book is dedicated to this actually! You can buy the book here.

Meet The Author,
Zali Yager

Dr Zali Yager is the Executive Director of The Embrace Collective [TEC], a DGR-status health promotion charity on a mission to help people everywhere build better body image. In her research position as Associate Professor in the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, Zali was also the Chief Investigator on the Goodform project for boys, a WADA-funded, randomised controlled trial of this 4-session school-based program.Connect with Zali via LinkedInInstagram and her website. Find out more about The Embrace Collective on Instagram. Sign up for the EK Support Squad to receive body image resources and support for young people.
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