Picture a child in your life—a son, a niece, a friend’s child, or a youth in your ward. Imagine living a day in that child’s shoes. What messages are being taught about his or her body? Where are these messages coming from? How might these messages make the child feel?
Now imagine that same child with the Savior, perhaps in a setting similar to those described in the Bible or the Book of Mormon, or perhaps while sitting together in a family home evening. “He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them” (3 Nephi 17:21). If the Savior were speaking to children about their bodies, what messages might He share? How would those messages make them feel?
We have the chance to be Christlike ministers to children, who receive mixed messages from the world about the worth of their bodies. As we talk openly with them in a safe and loving way, we can uplift, strengthen, and protect them. Here are some thoughts from professionals and Church leaders that may prompt your own ideas for talking about our bodies and body-image issues with the children you love.
Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, can help us understand what and how we should teach our children.
“Remember, you are not alone. The Savior has promised that He will not leave you comfortless,” taught Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, Presiding Bishop of the Church. He went on to say: “You have the Savior of the world on your side. If you seek His help and follow His directions, how can you fail?”1
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.”2 The poster at the end of this article (also found in the Friend, July 2014, 24–25) has scriptures and simple statements you could use to start a conversation about these and other important truths.
Listen to what your children say about what is beautiful or desirable. Lindsay Kite, who has a PhD in the study of media and body image and co-directs the Beauty Redefined Foundation, describes how digitally altered media messages often present a narrow definition of what is ideal—tall, young, thin, tan women and extremely muscular men, for example. Pursuing these ideals becomes a lifelong struggle for some people. Sister Kite suggests trying a family media fast. Set a specific amount of time—anywhere from three days to a month—and avoid as much media as you can.
“Without this stream of idealized images and messages, you become more sensitive to those that are unrealistic or that trigger anxiety,” Sister Kite says. “Then use that awareness to unsubscribe, un-like, un-follow, turn off, and turn away.”
Pornography is another way that harmful messages about the human body are delivered. Resources for talking about pornography and protecting your family from its influence can be found at overcomingpornography.org.3
Parents can stop talking negatively about their own bodies and instead express gratitude for all the things bodies can do, says Justin McPheters, who has a PhD in marriage and family therapy and works with LDS Family Services. Family outings, trips, and even injuries can give us opportunities to talk with our kids about how wonderful our bodies are.4
“We should regularly be highlighting all that our bodies are able to do,” Brother McPheters says. “Even a body with many physical limitations is able to do some wonderful things like smile, laugh, and cry.”
Because the topics of sexuality and body image are related to and affect each other, a discussion about bodies could include a discussion about sexuality. The Church has produced a guidebook to help parents hold age-appropriate conversations with their children about intimacy and sexual development (available online at lds.org/manual/a-parents-guide).5
The Friend magazine recently shared the true story of a girl who didn’t like her freckles. When she looked in the mirror, that’s all she seemed to see. Her mom encouraged her to pick up a pebble and hold it close to her eye.
“What do you see?” she asked. The daughter responded that all she could see was the rock. The mom told her to put the pebble down and take another look. Now what did she see?
“Lots of things,” the daughter said, pointing out the ground, flowers, and grass. The mom then taught the daughter that she is much more than just her freckles—she’s smart and patient and a daughter of God.
“Think of yourself as a whole garden, not just one pebble. Then you’ll be able to see yourself the way the Savior sees you.”6
As we teach our children these important truths with the help of the Spirit, our own testimony of the plan of salvation can be strengthened, and—as one Primary song so beautifully expresses it—we can “follow God’s plan for [us], holding fast to his word and his love.”7