3 Ways to Build a Safe Home Amidst Weight-Based Bullying
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Weight-based bullying has become the number one form of youth bullying. (1) With the rise of diet-culture and then social media, this is easy to believe. Of course, there are complex factors at play here. Many of which are out of the hands of parents. Yet, parents, families and home environments are essential in giving kids a firm foundation of body acceptance and their value as a human being. There is one significant thing that we can control. The home can be a safe and loving anchor in the tide of body criticism and insecurity.
Dieting is one obvious response to weight-based bullying. It is the cultural answer to the problem. “If you don’t want people to make fun of your body, then change it. Make it better.” Fifty percent of girls nine and ten years old say they feel better about themselves when they diet (2).
The cruel and “harmless” teasing that stems from these underlying ideals is incredibly damaging. Some examples? Nicknames that compare children’s bodies with other kids and animals. Jokes about what their future holds if they have the same body as an adult. Fatalistic comments about how they will also be “this way” and will never fit in. Reminding them how they are different from other “normal” weight children. Teasing them about their eating or exercise habits, or lack thereof.
Another recent study found that children who were raised up with diet-language (i.e. weight focused, the “thin” ideal, calorie counting, restricting, “good” and “bad” food, forbidden foods, etc.) were more likely to be dissatisfied with their weight and engage in disordered eating when they get older. They are also likely to model that same behavior for their children. Thus, reinforcing the cycle of body dissatisfaction and control. (3) It’s been shown that 46% of nine to eleven year olds are sometimes, or very often, on diets, and 82% of their families are sometimes, or very often, on diets. (4)
These attitudes and their effects run in the family. How we, as parents, treat bodies matters. How we react to weight shaming and weight-based bullying is important. Body-based bullying can have a severe impact on a girls’ attitude and behavior. Girls who suffered teasing by members of their families were 1.5 times more likely to try binge eating and/or other dangerous weight-control methods within five years. (2)
Here are three practical and powerful ways you can create a safe home environment for your kids in a culture of weight-based bullying.
1. Validate them.
When your kid is having a bad day because of a cruel comment from some kid in school, take it seriously. Realize that this is a very real issue and that it hurts, ask them how they feel about it, showing them that their feelings matter. Don’t expect them to let it roll off their backs or just “ignore” it. Even though injustice is wrong and that needs to be addressed, it is important to acknowledge the power that hurtful, shaming words can have.
Take the time to listen when they bring it up about themselves or a friend. Kids are looking for what you think… across the board. How you respond to their friends being bullied is just as important. Do you really believe that all bodies are equal and that all bullying is wrong? Or do you actually believe that there is something “less than” about their bodies, but don’t want them to be picked on for it?
2. Do some inner searching of your own.
In order to answer the previous question, you’ll need to do some inner searching on your own. In such a severely diet-steeped culture as our own, it has practically become the norm to be dissatisfied with our bodies. Do you really think there is something “less than” about bigger bodies? Is “thin” really the golden virtue to strive for? Are there body parts or types that should feel ashamed?
Look for any diet-mentality or agreement that you find in yourself that believes, “thinner people are better, happier, more important, more successful, more beautiful, sexier, more powerful, worthier of acceptance and belonging.” Even when we work to say “the right things” kids pick up on what we really believe.
There is also a beautiful opportunity here. When we do recognize these subtle and deep-rooted beliefs, we get to repent. Yep, I said it. Repent. I don’t believe repent is the scary condemning word that we often hear it used as. To “repent” literally just means to change the way you think about something.
This is a great opportunity to show your kids what healthy repenting looks like and at the same time allow God to change your mind about bodies. You can talk to God out loud with your kids present and tell Him something like, “I’ve been believing _______ about bodies and I don’t think that is in line with You, God, so help me to see _________ the way that you do. Help me to really believe ________. Thank you for pointing this belief out to me and giving me the desire to think differently about it.”
Do not be conformed to this world, but by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3. Help them to discover and reaffirm the value of their bodies.
Aside from the infinite worth God confers on us by loving us so much He’s also done an excellent job of jam-packing each of us with valuable qualities. Unique, beautiful, powerful, creative, meaningful and enjoyable qualities. Many of which we experience and share with others through our bodies. Our bodies are the medium through which we engage with all of God’s creation and even God Himself. Our bodies are a beautiful one-of-a-kind gift in-and-of-themselves.
We honor God and ourselves when we embrace the uniqueness of the body God has blessed us with. Here are a couple of fun activities you can do with your kids.
Brainstorm together around these questions, “what are you able to do with the body God gave you?” or “What are some of your favorite things to do that you need your body to do?”
Do some research about how God designed these amazing bodies to function- our immune systems, our digestive systems, our musculoskeletal system, etc. He’s created these incredibly intricate systems to work together for our good.
Consider the absolute creativity of God. How much does God love diversity? How are no two fingerprints the same?
(1) Puhl et. al "Cross-national perspectives about weight-based bullying in youth: nature, extent and remedies", Pediatr Obes. 2016 Aug;11(4):241-50. doi: 10.1111
(2) Mirror Mirror, Eating Disorder Help, accessed April 12, 2018
(3) Tabitha Farra and Jerica Berge, "Study shows diet talk and behavior passes down through generations" Eating Disorders Recovery Podcast, Episode 49, March 23, 2018
(4) Eating Disorder Statistics & Research, Eating Disorder Hope, accessed April 12, 2018