My Pilates instructor is one of the healthiest and fittest people I know. She was swimming at her gym when an eight-year-old girl came over to her and said, “Oh, you’re not doing it right! I can teach you how to swim so that you can lose more weight!” We were stunned.
This is what little girls think. They think the sole purpose of exercise is weight loss, and the best way to have a body is to have a skinny body.
Body image issues can start at ages as early as five according to CNN. Kids are not born with these beliefs. We are part of a society that teaches children to be dissatisfied with their looks and their bodies. There are countless harmful media messages that have been hurting kids’ body image for decades. One of those messages is the idea that exercise is all about how your body looks.
From a young age, children learn, whether from media advertisements or from the adults in their lives, that exercise is a tool for changing the appearance of your body. Exercise is a way to get thinner, or more toned, or more “ripped” and muscular. While exercise has the power to do all of these things, there are countless other powers that exercise has.
Many believe that you use exercise as a way to either change or maintain the appearance of your body. If you have no desire to do either of those things, then you have no reason to exercise. This could not be further from the truth.
Regardless of the way your body looks or the way you want your body to look, exercise is both beneficial and enjoyable. Exercise keeps your mind and body healthy and keeps your energy up. Physical activity is important for keeping the chemicals in your brain in balance and remaining upbeat and happy. Working out can also be a fantastic social activity with friends or family. Or, it can be an excuse for some “me time” when you have been busy.
It is important that we, as adults, focus on and talk about the many benefits of exercise aside from the appearance-based benefits. Children need to receive the message that exercise is about holistic health and happiness, not punishment or changing the way you look. Kids need to feel that exercise can be fun and is not something miserable that you force yourself to do in order to stop feeling guilty or “lazy.” Mind, heart, and body are all connected, and being physically active is about much more than your physical body.
By the way, it isn’t just kids that need to relearn this. We all do too.