Growing Reader

Tween

Teen

Books to Help Kids Build a Positive Body Image

by Denise Schipani

Photo credit: KidStock, Blend Images/Getty Images

A year or so ago, when my older son was growth-spurting — and sliding into his Awkward Years — he said something so out of the blue (well, to my ears) that I can’t stop thinking about it. “Just look at my legs!” he moaned, with real anguish. “They are so fat.” For the record, my boy is big (always has been), but he is not “fat.” What made his pronouncement ring uncomfortably in my ears was the fact that I thought this didn’t happen to boys!

Clearly, I was wrong. And yet when I started searching for books to help boys deal with distorted body images, I found … not a lot. (Plenty for girls, which is understandable). The fact is, our kids — all of them— are faced daily with unrealistic images of the human body, and some are more vulnerable (thanks to temperament or age or a host of other factors) to making damaging comparisons with their own bodies. Barbie’s Amazonian frame, ever-thinner runway models, notorious magazine and advertisement Photoshopping: what the media presents to girls is well-known. Guess what? Boys are catching up: It’s now commonplace for male models to be shirtless (and more), baring impossibly chiseled torsos. Male action figures, too, have physiques that, if transposed onto adult men, would dwarf the buffest body builder. The point is, all our children are growing up with distorted images of what makes a woman or a man sexy, hot, desirable, cool.

One thing a smart parent can do is limit exposure to these images, but that can be (depending on your child’s age) about as unrealistic as Barbie’s waist size. Start as early as you can by presenting them with positive counter messages, such as those found in these books.

  • For Kids

  • What I Like About Me!

    by Allia Zobel Nolan, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto

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    The message here, aimed at early school age kids, is that it’s not fitting-in that makes us special, but our differences (curly hair, glasses, braces) that we should celebrate. A magic Mylar mirror on the last page gives your kid a chance to choose what she likes best about herself. Or, of course, himself.

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  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth

    by Jeff Kinney

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    In this installment of the wildly popular graphic-novel series, our hero Greg Hefley bumbles through the physical indignity of puberty, including orthodontic headgear. While Greg never reaches perfect self-acceptance, just knowing that other boys feel pretty bad about themselves most of the time has to make a reader feel marginally better about himself.

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  • The Second Life of Abigail Walker

    by Frances O’Roark Dowell

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    Seventeen pounds: that’s the difference between Abigail and being one of the popular girls. She’s having none of it, refusing to be teased, and instead finding friendship with a homeschooled kid whose father is a vet struggling with PTSD. Helping someone else might just be her ticket to feeling her best.

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  • Fat Kid Rules the World

    by K.L. Going

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    Nearly 300 pounds and so depressed he’s about to hop in front of a NYC subway train, 17-year-old Troy Billings instead meets a skinny, nearly homeless punk rocker who somehow decides Troy needs to be the drummer in his band. This YA novel covers the familiar (and necessary) themes of friendship and self-acceptance.

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  • One Fat Summer

    by Robert Lipsyte

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    Written in 1981 and set in the summer of 1955, One Fat Summer is the story of Bobby Marks, overweight in a time when it was even more okay than it distressingly still is today to make fun of fat kids. In the space of a torturous summer — a season he dreads because he can’t hide behind a winter coat — Bobby mows a massive lawn for the stingy Dr. Kahn, and endures being bullied by the town meanie, while missing his friend Joanie.

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