The Body Positivity Movement: What Is It and Why Teach It to Our Children?

The body positivity movement seeks to make everyone love and respect their body and that of others. Learn more about it.
The Body Positivity Movement: What Is It and Why Teach It to Our Children?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 31 May, 2023

Childhood should be a happy and carefree time. During these years, the last thing a child should be anxious about is how they look or whether their body fits the canons of beauty. However, this concern appears at younger and younger ages and increases during adolescence. This is the origin of body positivity, a movement that encourages people to love and accept their physique.

This is an international problem, as it’s estimated that more than 45% of adolescents are dissatisfied with their body image. This is what’s stated in a UNICEF report, which also warns that this “negative body image” leads young people to suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

We can protect children from these tendencies at home, educating them in values and instilling appropriate attitudes towards their own bodies. And for this, body positivity is a great alternative.

What is the body positivity movement?

Body positivity is a social and cultural movement with several decades of experience, but it’s been gaining momentum in recent years. Its main objective is to normalize the diversity of bodies that exist and encourage people to accept them, without judgment or rejection.

From this approach, all bodies are valid and worthy of respect, regardless of their size, shape, color, race, or degree of disability. Therefore, it challenges the prevailing standards of beauty and questions the way society analyzes and evaluates the body.

From a very young age, children are exposed to these standards. The family, the media, social networks, and the cultural context that surrounds them can instill in them the idea that their value as people depends on the extent to which they’re attractive or have an image that’s accepted by society.

Therefore, body positivity encourages them to love, value, and respect their body (their own and that of others) regardless of their physical attributes. And this doesn’t only include overweight people (as people think), rather it also focuses on all people in general.

In particular, it can help those young people who feel they need to develop more muscle mass to be valid, those who have a complex about their nose, or the shape of their legs, or those who feel ashamed of their pimples or body hair. In society, anything that’s out of the norm, anything that doesn’t “fit the mold,” can become an object of ridicule and shame.

A teenage girl putting on makeup in front of the mirror.
Sometimes, excessive makeup on teenage girls can be a sign that they don’t accept themselves as they are and want to look like someone else.

Why is it important to teach this to our children?

Body positivity and the beliefs it advocates can help protect children and adolescents from this tendency to compare themselves to others, as well as to devalue their image and feel inadequate or invalid. These are some of the main benefits.

Promotes a positive self-image

Sometimes, we think that only a person with a “normative” body, that is, one that meets society’s standards of beauty, has the right to be accepted and to have a positive perception of their image. But the truth is that this is within everyone’s reach and can have positive consequences.

For example, a study published in the journal Eating Behaviors found that obese people who accept their weight and figure suffer less stigma and discrimination. Specifically, others perceive them with greater sympathy and liking and attribute greater self-esteem and fewer psychological problems to them than to those who don’t accept their weight.

Body positivity can help children to love and accept themselves as they are, thus protecting themselves to some extent from social rejection and stigma.

Improves self-esteem

Self-esteem is essential for good psychological health, establishing positive relationships with others, and achieving personal success. But far from what we tend to believe, a child’s self-esteem doesn’t depend on the size or shape of their body, but on the acceptance they feel toward it.

This reality has been observed, for example, in a systematic review published in the journal Appetite. It suggests that even without losing weight, people who follow an intervention focused on a change of perspective and body acceptance experience an increase in self-esteem and greater psychological well-being.

Promotes greater physical health

As we’ve already said, loving and accepting your body can help children and adolescents to enjoy better psychological health. But it can also promote their physical health.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that adolescents who are dissatisfied with their image paradoxically engage in less physical activity and consume fewer fruits and vegetables; they also have a higher risk of smoking.

Prevents the onset of eating disorders

In addition, body positivity can prevent the onset of eating disorders. A reality that’s increasingly present among young people. For example, the aforementioned study conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health, also observed that body dissatisfaction is associated with higher levels of dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors.

Similarly, another study published in the journal Appetite found that rejection of one’s own body is a strong predictor of bulimic behavior. Therefore, body positivity can help children stay away from these eating disorders that can have serious consequences in their lives.

Body positivity: How to teach your children to love their bodies?

There are several guidelines you can implement to introduce children to the movement of body positivity and help them love their bodies to have a positive body image.

Check your own beliefs and behaviors

Many times, as mothers, we criticize our own bodies in front of our children or subject ourselves to strict and unhealthy diets in front of their eyes, setting a negative example.

In fact, research published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy suggests that these behaviors lead children to have low self-esteem, more concern about their bodies, and more problematic eating attitudes.

Focus on health, not appearance

When guiding your children’s eating practices, focus on what’s healthier and what can provide them with more energy and better nutrients, not what will make them fat or thin. You must teach them that the most important thing for them should be to stay healthy.

A mother and daughter exercising together.
Encourage your children to practice sports and eat healthy, because that’s what loving their body and taking care of it is all about.

Use everyday situations to instill positive values

When observing diverse bodies, whether in real life, movies, social media, or magazines, talk about them naturally and without judgment or criticism. Don’t make offensive comments; remind them that the world is a diverse place and people come in all shapes and sizes, and that doesn’t define them as people.

Stories and movies are also a good way to teach body acceptance. To do this, choose titles that have a positive message regarding body image and share them with your children.

Also, seek professional guidance if you think your son or daughter is excessively concerned about their image, has low self-esteem, or is beginning to have risky attitudes or behaviors.

Teach them to love and care for their bodies

Finally, we’d like to emphasize that body positivity doesn’t imply encouraging children to stop taking care of themselves. On the contrary, it’s important to maintain habits and a healthy lifestyle routine, but because they love their body and want to take care of it, not because they reject it and want it to change at all costs.

In addition, it’s important to remember that accepting their body doesn’t imply seeing it as always perfect. If we take body positivity to the extreme, children may feel pressured to always look good, and this isn’t natural. They’ll have days when their “flaws” will be more noticeable to them and others when certain parts of their body won’t be so pleasing to them. The important thing is to respect and accept yourself at all times and understand that a physique doesn’t determine your value.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Handford, C. M., Rapee, R. M., & Fardouly, J. (2018). The influence of maternal modeling on body image concerns and eating disturbances in preadolescent girls. Behaviour Research and Therapy100, 17-23.
  • Jimenez Boraita, R., Arriscado Alsina, D., Dalmau Torres, J. M., & Gargallo Ibort, E. (2021). Determinantes de la satisfacción corporal en adolescentes de La Rioja. Revista Española de Salud Pública95(1), e1-e12.
  • Lasikiewicz, N., Myrissa, K., Hoyland, A., & Lawton, C. L. (2014). Psychological benefits of weight loss following behavioural and/or dietary weight loss interventions. A systematic research review. Appetite72, 123-137.
  • Murakami, J. M., & Latner, J. D. (2015). Weight acceptance versus body dissatisfaction: Effects on stigma, perceived self-esteem, and perceived psychopathology. Eating Behaviors19, 163-167.
  • Neumark-Sztainer, D., Paxton, S. J., Hannan, P. J., Haines, J., & Story, M. (2006). Does body satisfaction matter? Five-year longitudinal associations between body satisfaction and health behaviors in adolescent females and males. Journal of adolescent health39(2), 244-251.
  • UNICEF (2020). Mundos de Influencia:¿ Cuáles son los determinantes del bienestar infantil en los países ricos? (Report card nº 16).
  • Ricciardelli, L. A., Tate, D., & Williams, R. J. (1997). Body dissatisfaction as a mediator of the relationship between dietary restraint and bulimic eating patterns. Appetite29(1), 43-54.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.