Impact of Language on Body Image in Children & Adolescents

Recently, the term “almond mom” has gained popularity on TikTok. And it has helped kick off an important conversation about the impact of adult language on the healthy body image development of children and teens.

The “almond mom” moniker was inspired by a resurfaced clip of Yolanda Hadid from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” In the controversial clip, Yolanda Hadid appears to advise her young daughter Gigi Hadid to eat a small number of almonds and chew them “really well” to avoid feeling weak from hunger.

While the clip shows an extreme example of a parent passing on toxic messages about diet culture, it has helped inspire a broader conversation about the subtle ways adult attitudes can affect body image in young people.

The Water We Swim In

Diet culture is something many adults and young people encounter on a regular basis. It is widespread and deeply entrenched in the cultures of families, organizations, and other social environments.

Diet culture is based on the idea that there is one right way to achieve health or beauty. Rather than bringing people together to appreciate their shared humanness, it has the potential to divide people and promote judgment toward the self and others.

Though parents and family members typically want the best for their children, they are susceptible to repeating the same harmful messages they may have received throughout their own lives. By using language that promotes dieting, body criticism, weight stigma, and other toxic elements of diet culture, parents may be contributing to diet culture’s vicious cycle and passing its effects on to the next generation.

How Language Can Cause Harm

Parents and family members may feel that they have the best intentions when they warn a child about the dangers of sweet foods or suggest that a child eat a smaller portion of food at a party. However, experts warn that even casual comments about food and appearance can cause children to develop negative feelings about their bodies and disconnect from their own intuition about what’s best for their well-being.

Intuitive eating counselor Sarah Herstitch told HuffPost that adults should help kids learn to respect and honor their bodies’ cues. “Restricting and disconnecting from natural cues builds mistrust and can easily lead to disordered eating,” she explained.

Other professionals who spoke to HuffPost highlighted further missteps adults may make when discussing food or body image in front of young people. These include:

  • Suggesting that smaller bodies perform better in sports
  • Labeling certain foods as “good” or “bad”
  • Implying that there are food choices and portion sizes that are objectively right for everyone
  • Criticizing the appearance, fashion choices, or eating habits of oneself or others

Research suggests that parents and family members can seriously affect a young person’s feelings about their body. And studies have linked parental comments about weight, including weight-based teasing, weight-related comments, and negative weight talk, to body image challenges in young people.

Tips for Inspiring Positive Body Image

If you want to help the young people in your life embrace a positive body image, where should you start? These tips from the HuffPost article may help:

  • Work on improving your own relationship with food and body image.
  • If you make an unfortunate comment about food or body image in front of a young person, acknowledge the mistake and address it.
  • If a food- or body-related thought pops into your head, take a moment to pause and reflect before deciding whether to share it.

The following guidelines might also be helpful in overcoming the effects of diet culture, both for yourself and others around you:

  • Avoid any sense of judgment when speaking about food or physical appearance.
  • Strive to promote balance when it comes to nutrition and lifestyle.
  • Practice self-compassion on your journey to greater awareness.

When it comes to embracing a positive body image, everyone is likely to be on their own journey of growth and unlearning. By taking care of yourself, you may be better able to take care of others. And by working to address any “almond mom” tendencies you may have, you can contribute to a safer, gentler, and more body-positive world for those around you.