Years ago, I experienced adverse reactions to various foods I’d eaten. My doctor took months to pinpoint the issue, and I lost a good amount of weight in the process. During that time, people praised my changed appearance, suggesting the loss was a good thing. Although I wasn’t surprised by these reactions, they did reinforce how our culture prizes physical appearance regardless of genuine health.

We all know our kids receive countless messages related to body image. In fact, 42 percent of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner, according to a study by M. Elizabeth Collins. However, we’d be remiss to think that only girls deal with this issue. Boys and girls are affected by the unrealistic body types promoted in the media and feel pressure to achieve an “ideal” physique. As a parent, I want to help my children know their identity in Christ, and for that identity to guide them as they navigate these unhealthy messages.

When we encourage our kids to appreciate everything their bodies do, rather than what their bodies look like, they grow to see their bodies as a gift from God. Quoting Psalm 139, we can remind them they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God’s works are wonderful.

Yet, important as it is for children to understand from an early age and beyond that their worth is not tied to their appearance or how successful they are, it is just as essential for us to accept and model this truth ourselves.

This is one reason I’m unapologetic about wearing a swimsuit. It’s not my favorite thing to do, and I don’t love how I look in it, but years from now, my kids will have memories of me playing in the water with them. For me, that’s more motivating than worrying about what I look like. I hope that, seeing me focus on activity rather than my appearance, my kids will grow up knowing that our bodies—a gift from God—are amazing and worthy of our respect.

Practices

  • Focus on wellness: Our bodies are a gift from God we can steward together. As a family, make healthy meals and get active together by taking a walk or having a dance party. Say a prayer of thanks when you eat and when you play.
  • Compliment character: When offering compliments or praise to your children, highlight character traits and spiritual gifts (e.g., courage or kindness) rather than appearance or achievement.
  • Model body confidence: Surround your family with positive role models who have healthy relationships with their bodies. Talk about how being active makes you feel—strong and confident—rather than focusing on weight or size. Tape this note to your bathroom mirror: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Kari van Wakeren
Kari van Wakeren is a pastor of First Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Minn., and author of Bubble Wrap Girl (Beaver's Pond Press).

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