How To Rehab Your Body Image (and “Prehab” Your Kids’ Body Image By Example)

A version of this article originally ran on Parent.Co.  Find it Here.

I’m a runner.  

Running is of my favorite things to do.  I love it so much, in fact, that I often find myself logging too many miles, too many days of the week, which, invariably, results in injury.  I’ve had shin splints, stress fractures, recurring tendinitis and bursitis like you wouldn’t believe…and all of those injuries have sidelined me.  They’ve forced me to rehabilitate or “rehab” each injury until it got better and I could run again.

Rehabbing a sports injury can be tough.  The process can be uncomfortable,–  at times painful–lengthy, and involves  Reactive Therapeutic Efforts.  When I’ve been injured, it’s always made me wish that I’d taken Proactive Measures to avoid that injury in the first place.  I internally chide myself for not embracing “Prehab” or preventative steps like sports-specific exercises, stretching more often, foam rolling, or–most difficult–taking more rest days.  It seems I never learn.  

Mired in self-pity over my latest injury, I got to thinking about the concept of repairing or “rehabbing” body image.  It struck me that Body Image Rehab is analogous to rehabilitating a sports or fitness injury in that it takes both time and effort.   But most comparable, however, is that it takes Reactive Effort.     

In my estimation, Proactive Effort is preferable to Reactive Effort because if we rely on the latter,  we’re repairing damage already sustained.  Avoiding (or reducing) damage is desirable, and if you ask me, most of us are in need of some measure of body image repair.

  • In a recent survey, more than 40% of women and about 20% of men agreed they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future. The statistics remain relatively constant across gender, age, marital status, and race.
  • By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.
  1. More than 90 percent of girls (15 to 17 years) want to change at least
           one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the
             * Nearly a quarter would consider undergoing plastic surgery.
  2. Approximately 91% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies and utilize dieting to reach their ideal physique. Regrettably, only 5% of women are naturally inclined toward the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.

How did it come to this?  

Simple.  Lack of “Prehab to prevent Rehab.”

When I neglected to engage in Prehab for running,  I missed out on developing strength and stability around my most vulnerable areas, setting myself up for needing Rehab.   

 Body Image can work the same way.

Body Image “Prehab” consists of the Proactive Measures suggested for fostering a healthy body image in ourselves today.  We can likewise do the same for the children within our influential reach.  Parents, teachers, and other adults in leadership positions can assist with guiding young people in developing strength and stability around their most vulnerable areas, preventing or reducing the need for Rehab.  

As far as body image is concerned, taking this active role  is critical in preventing a need for repair.  The negative effects of society’s impossible-to-maintain standard for beauty is deplorable. It’s more important than ever to overcome these damaging beauty stereotypes; to lead by example and embrace more genuine and positive ways of feeling confident, healthy and strong.  

Here are Eight Ways To Take An Active Role in Body Image Rehab and Prehab:


    • Be careful of disparaging your own body’s flaws in the presence of your children.  

    • Be careful of disparaging other’s bodies in the presence of your children

It’s tempting to snark about yourself or others, but resist the urge.  Also, you’ll only get the hang of doing this if you get into the habit of also doing it when your children are not present.  

After I wrote this article, a friend of mine told me:

“I gained weight 12 years ago, and have fluctuated in weight since then, especially after having my son. I went through a lot of times that I hated the way I looked and made it known. Even now, I’m still overweight and I let life get in the way and slack big time, but I have made a point to never say anything bad about myself in front of my son. Not only has it built my confidence, but I don’t say anything bad about myself ever anymore, and now encourage other people to stop as well. I always tell people that if they want to better their health, it’s about the inside, and it should never be about the outside, because when it is for vain reasons, it seems like it fails a lot more often!”

Her comment drives home the point that Positive Self-Talk is imperative. She’s living proof that this active role is working.  She rehabbing her body image and modeling that behavior for her son.   Children are listening.  They hear what you say, whether they appear to be engaged or not.  When you disparage your own body, or the bodies of others, they internalize that as the appropriate to take on body image.   Fostering a positive body image in children by presenting one yourself is crucial.  They learn from that behavior.  Little Pitchers Have Big Ears.  


The internet, social media, and entertainment en masse is absolutely saturated with sexually explicit material.  What this equates to, besides a passive cultural acceptance of lewd and lascivious medium, is lots of screen space devoted to bodies.  Specifically, unrealistic and airbrushed bodies, are presented to the viewer as the standard, rather than the exception.

In a recent study published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders, which examined 111 five-year olds and their 109 mothers, a shocking thirty-four percent of girls reported at least a moderate level of dietary restraint.  The results stated, “Media exposure and appearance conversations were the strongest predictors of dietary restraint.”

Media exposure and appearance conversations were the strongest predictors of dietary restraint.

Kids are high-tech: they use tablets for schoolwork and games, are comfortable with and knowledgeable about apps;  heck-they pretty much know how to navigate the internet before their give up their tommee tippee sippy cups!

I had my internet service changed over Memorial Day Weekend.  And when the tech came out to my house, we started chatting about Netflix.  I joked about getting locked out of Netflix on my laptop and being resigned to watching instant streaming on my aging and archaic desktop which happens to be-thankfully-still logged in.  He responded, “Yeah, when I’m home any sort of problem like that, I’ve gotta rely on my seven-year-old to get me back in.  She pretty much is our default for getting us back into all of our devices.  She’s a wizard.”  A wizard.

Perhaps just as worrying the fact that children can easily gain access to the sexually graphic or violent material, is the fact that they don’t have to break into anything to see an boundless supply of misleading photoshopped and airbrushed results.  If they are constantly seeing these perfect retouched images online, won’t they begin to assume it’s the norm rather than the exception? Moreover, have you thought about what you are exposing yourself to on a daily basis and how that is affecting your own body image? Society as a whole has grown accustomed to and expectant of perfect bodies in the media.  



Most parents know they can enable parental controls on all their devices.  But did you know the extent of what’s out there? Parent.Co offers easy-to-understand breakdowns and reviews of the latest tools you can utilize to control, filter, even “press pause” on your devices to prevent or limit access to sites that would expose your family to sexually explicit material.  However, you might be missing an important segment of the internet heavily devoted to body image.  Particularly dangerous sites to watch out for (that wouldn’t otherwise be blocked for sexually graphic material) are “Pro-Ana” or “Pro-Eating Disorder” sites.   The sites can be highly influential and dangerous.   

Also, what might seem harmless on social media sites like facebook, instagram, or pinterest could be subconsciously triggering.  I took a complete one month break from facebook because I realized that the #TransformationTuesday posts flooding my feed every Tuesday were doing my body image great harm.  I now try to avoid social media on Tuesdays in general for the reason and I’m no longer facing quite as many “Before” and “After” body shots.  It really does help.  

In the Q & A article for the Torch router, co-creator Shelley remarked about applying the “internet pause” feature to adult browsing, “We actually did a small focus group with 8th graders. A lot of them said, “I want this for my mom because she’s constantly on her phone.” I think there’s value in being able to regulate ourselves too.”


Utilizing filters on photos posted to instagram, snapchat, twitter and other social media has become nearly pathological for some people.  Are you one of those people?  It’s okay to admit it! Photoshopping and filtering can be addictively fun, but it can also be hard on body image.

 In a study examining this behavior in adolescent girls, results concluded that:

“the selfie girls who regularly shared self-images on social media, relative to those who did not, reported significantly higher overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint, and internalization of the thin ideal. In addition, among girls who shared photos of themselves on social media, higher engagement in manipulation of and investment in these photos, but not higher media exposure, were associated with greater body-related and eating concerns, including after accounting for media use and internalization of the thin ideal.”

So, the more we are “fixing” the flaws, the more dissatisfied we are becoming which can lead to some pretty unhealthy means of achieving unrealistic goals (the thin ideal).  

Allowing the world to see the real you can be refreshing.  It can help you rehab confidence in your natural beauty and unique attributes.  

Aerie Real model Iskra Lawrence is an amazing and inspiring example of someone who allows the world to see the “Real Her”, flaws and all.  It’s a beautiful thing.  For inspiration, check out the entire Aerie Real campaign which features zero photoshopped images and

is nothing but body positivity.    

Seriously, filter in moderation. Or kick the habit once and for all.   



Shame is insidious, and we’re hurting kids when we give them the message that thinness is the only route to becoming happy and successful in life.

    • And/or how their eating habits have an impact on their appearance.
    • Healthy eating does not require motivation by shame or guilt. Instead, emphasize improved health instead of improved appearance.

(If you suspect an eating disorder, contact NEDA, BEDA or ANAD for the best way to talk with your child.)



    • Stop talking about dieting immediately.  Adults often have their own issues with food and body image because they, too, have absorbed cultural messages that overvalue thinness.  Don’t talk about your diet in front of your children—they may quickly internalize weight loss as a worthy goal.  Ever better, don’t diet, because it’s a vicious, unhealthy cycle. Disconnect conversations about eating from any weight focus.  
    • Also, avoid pushing exercise as a means for weight loss.  Focus on the fun and health benefits, instead.  

More than 90 percent of girls – 15 to 17 years – want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.  The culture of thinness is directly responsible.  



How do you define your self-worth? Do you put a lot of stock in your appearance? Does appearance play a large role in your self confidence or identity?

Reconsider what makes you valuable and you you.  

Are you a budding artist or thinking about taking a “painting with a twist” or other fun class? Consider allowing that new aspiration to replace body image in the “identity space” of your psyche.   You may find that it’s pretty damn satisfying to have something enduring to show for your efforts in lieu of a perfectly flat stomach, toned arms, or whatever appearance-based attribute in which you’ve formerly invested your value.  

By putting an emphasis on your own hobbies, talents, and dreams will show kids that real self confidence and self worth lie in goal-setting, goal-reaching and team building.   


    • Break up with the Mirror, Body Checking & Navel Gazing Habits: I followed my therapist’s advice and took an extended break from the mirrors in my house to cope with my weight recovery after an Anorexia relapse so that I could focus on the inside.   
    • Lead by example and prioritize character qualities as having greater value than personal appearance.   Allow these attributes like kindness, generosity, honesty, love, joy, peace, forbearance, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to take the spotlight.  Select qualities that are meaningful and tailored to your competitive advantage so your own confidence rings true.

If you find that you carry your own internalized weight stigma, you’re not alone. Practicing self-compassion as you Rehab your body image on an individual level or working toward ending weight stigma on a cultural level are valuable gifts to give the next generation of children.  We need to start including and accepting the diversity of body types in our conversations and in our actions.  We need to assist with guiding young people in developing strength and stability around their most vulnerable areas, preventing or reducing the need for Body Image Rehab in the first place.  





Sources Cited


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