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Promoting Body Positivity in Early Years

Anyone who’s read a newspaper, turned on the TV or looked at social media knows that the pressure to look a certain way is unrelenting, unforgiving and inescapable. You would hope that children would be shielded from this until they are at least in their teens. However, studies have shown that attitudes about body image can start as early as three years old.

Body image is the way we feel about our body and its appearance, including size, shape and skin colour. Research has shown that the better you feel about your body, the more likely you are to care for it. Needless to say, we want our Early Years to grow up feeling good about themselves and practicing healthy habits. Therefore, we need to instil body positivity as early as possible.

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Some of the ways we can promote body positivity are:

  • Encouraging children to learn about how their body works – marvelling at how our legs support us as we run, our hands can carry out intricate tasks and our mouths can help us communicate with other people.
  • Providing opportunities to learn about different cultures and identities. This can be done through stories, dressing up and role-play, showing that all people are celebrated. Roleplaying as doctors could help facilitate a conversation about how we care for ourselves and each other when we are hurt, and how we need to look after ourselves to make sure we’re healthy.
  • Encouraging trying new foods and good eating habits. This helps children understand that, in order to be strong and healthy, we need the right fuel in our bodies.
  • Reading stories and display images with diverse bodies in them. If all the characters in your Early Years’ books are white, thin and able-bodied, you may need a rethink. Normalising people with different skin colours, body shapes and visible disabilities in your everyday conversations with children will give them a more rounded world view and expand their attitudes to what is “normal”, allowing them to celebrate all bodies and feel better about themselves.
  • Being aware of our own body image and the way we talk about ourselves. Our Early Years tend to have bat-like hearing just when we’re saying things not for their ears, and if they hear us talking about how much weight we’ve put on over lockdown, or commenting on the appearance of others, it’s going to have an impact. If it doesn’t come naturally, practice talking about yourself in a more positive light, pointing out things you like about yourself and building others up. Remember, noticing weight loss is not the only compliment we can give! It is vital practitioners model healthy behaviour.
  • Facilitating positive discussions in circle time, or activities that focus on positive attitudes to our bodies. Enable children to think about what they like about themselves, encouraging an atmosphere where they feel free to compliment others.

For more ideas on how to promote body positivity in your setting, take a look at Dr Ruth MacConville’s Positive Body Image in the Early Years: A Practical Guide

What do you do in your setting to promote a positive body image? Do you have any tips to share with the TNL community? Get in touch on our socials and join the conversation!

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