She shares that she had her own “aha moment” about this when her now-preteen daughter was two years old: “She repeated something negative that I had said about my body and I was pretty shaken by it.” Sole-Smith decided right then to make a conscious effort not to comment on how other people’s bodies look—that goes for both positive and negative remarks—and noticed how difficult it was. “It took a long time to stop, and I kept realizing, wow, I constantly want to comment on others’ bodies,” she says, adding that this type of judgment and shaming is so normalized in our culture we often don’t think twice about it.
Telling someone they look great after they’ve lost weight might seem like a compliment (and even something you’re expected to say), but it just reinforces the false idea that thinner bodies are better than fatter ones. Likewise, gossiping among friends about a celebrity’s apparent weight gain can feel like harmless chit-chat about someone you’ll never meet, but it can make everyone in the conversation feel more self-conscious about their own bodies and critical of others’.
Of course, pointing out anti-fat bias requires talking about bodies—but the intent in that case is to highlight that everyone, regardless of their size, deserves the same love, respect, and human rights.
4. Celebrate body diversity in your home.
As important as it is to model body neutrality yourself and have conversations about self-acceptance with the teens in your life, Sole-Smith says it’s equally crucial to showcase and celebrate diversity in your home.
For example: “Choose art that shows bodies of all different sizes. Read books and watch films that center fat protagonists,” Sole-Smith recommends. By choosing Hairspray for family movie night, say, and watching TV shows that showcase (or at least make an effort to showcase) body diversity among main characters, such as Shrill or Derry Girls, you’re showing your teenagers—without having to lecture them—that it’s possible to do the things you want no matter what you look like.
5. Help them find role models with different-sized bodies.
Although social media is a minefield of terrible diet advice and impossible body standards, there are some ways to use it for good. Sole-Smith recommends helping teenagers find role models with a diverse range of body sizes that they can look up to. “If your kid’s into rock climbing, send them a rock climber in a larger body to follow. If your niece or nephew is into dance, suggest some awesome fat dancers for their feed,” she says, like Dexter Mayfield and Lizzy Howell.
Rock climbing and dance are two of many activities that have a culture of thinness and narrow body standards, which can harm teens whether you realize it or not. It’s crucial to actively push against those harmful expectations in order to protect kids and change the harmful but common narrative that fat people can’t be happy and successful in these areas—and others—she says.
6. Talk about food in a neutral way, and keep a variety of options in the house.
Sole-Smith recommends keeping your language as neutral as possible at meal and snack times. “Don’t call certain foods ‘bad,’ don’t shame processed foods, and don’t tell your kid to limit certain foods,” she says. “Make sure they know that all foods are okay to eat as long as there’s not a medical reason to avoid them [like an allergy].” This might seem like a huge mindset shift depending on your own relationship with food and the messages you’re used to hearing, but even if health and nutrition are two things you care deeply about, talking about these things in a neutral way will help your teenager learn how different foods make them feel, without the side of guilt or shame that they might have if you discourage them from eating things like pizza and ice cream.