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Body Building: 8 Books That Help Kids Build a Healthy Body Image

Every body is beautiful: If your tween or teen is having a hard time accepting his or her body, try giving them one of these books

Caitlin Flynn

Published on: December 28, 2015

Every body is beautiful, but many children have a hard time accepting their bodies. The media bombards us with images that tell us beauty doesn’t come in all shapes and sizes, and children who don’t fit society’s cookie-cutter idea of “attractive” are often subjected to bullying by their peers.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 81 percent of 10-year-old girls fear being fat, and 46 percent of 9- to 11-year-olds frequently go on diets. By the teen years, the statistics are even more troubling. More than half of teenage girls and one-third of teenage boys engage in unhealthy behaviors (such as skipping meals, purging and abusing laxatives) in an effort to lose weight.

These statistics prove that we need to teach our children to love and take care of their bodies. Books are powerful tools for teaching your child about body positivity. The following fiction and nonfiction titles explore a variety of body-image issues and send the powerful and important message that beauty comes from within.

1. The Second Life of Abigail Walker

By Frances O’Roark Dowell

(Ages: 8–12)

Abby Walker is always on the outskirts of her group of friends solely because she weighs 17 pounds more than her pals. She walks on eggshells around them and is always careful to agree at all costs — otherwise they taunt her. Abby is happy with her body and realizes that her weight is no reason to be mistreated. She finds the courage to stand up to their cruel remarks, and is promptly ostracized.

Eventually, Abby finds new friends who accept her and love her for who she is and who recognize that the number on the scale doesn’t define her.

2. Wonder

By R.J. Palacio

(Ages: 8–12)

Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity, and he is homeschooled because of his health problems. He’s excited to begin mainstream school in fifth grade, but not all his classmates welcome him with open arms. Some of his peers refuse to look past Auggie’s physical appearance and taunt him because of the way he looks. But Auggie stays positive, finds true friends and inspires those around him to adopt the motto of “Choose kind.”

3. Smile

By Raina Telgemeier

(Ages: 10–13)

When Raina Telgemeier was 12 years old, an accident caused her to lose both her front teeth. For the next several years, she endured painful surgeries and had to wear headgear, false teeth and implants. The physical pain was accompanied by taunting from her classmates and former friends.

Despite the physical suffering and bullying, Telgemeier persevered. She found friends who loved her with or without headgear, and this memoir sends the important message that it’s entirely possible for people to find happiness and acceptance when they don’t meet society’s standards of “beautiful.”

4. Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

By Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

(Ages: 11 and older)

Michaela DePrince is currently a dancer at the prestigious Dutch National Ballet — but her path to stardom wasn’t an easy one. DePrince was born in Sierra Leone and lived in an orphanage after her parents died. Because of vitiligo, a condition that makes her skin look spotted, she was ostracized and described as a “devil’s child.”

Despite her incredible talent and work ethic, DePrince was told that she’d never succeed as a ballerina because the black body type isn’t “graceful” enough for professional ballet. But she couldn’t be stopped.

5. Fat Kid Rules the World

By K.L. Going

(Ages: 12 and older)

Troy is painfully self-conscious about his weight, and he lives with constant anxiety that others are laughing at him. He reaches the point where he considers jumping in front of a subway train, but a chance encounter with a teenage musician, Curt, changes his life. Curt recruits Troy to join his band, and Troy slowly but surely begins to realize that his identity is not defined by his size.

Troy’s journey to self-acceptance doesn’t involve losing weight. It’s all about discovering his passions, forming supportive relationships and recognizing the importance of looking beyond appearances.

6. True Face: Be Real. Be Fearless. Be You.

By Siobhan Curham

(Ages: 13 and older)

Curham’s motto is “Forget the fake and keep it real,” and True Face provides thoughtful advice that encourages teens to focus on inner beauty. Teenagers are bombarded with airbrushed images and narrow standards of what constitutes “beautiful.” Curham encourages her readers to find their true selves and challenge the inner voice that constantly tells them they’re not pretty enough or thin enough.

Curham also includes writing exercises that allow readers to explore their body-image issues.

7. One Fat Summer

By Robert Lipsyte

(Ages: 14 and older)

Most kids eagerly await summer vacation, but Bobby dreads it. When he spends the season at Rumson Lake, he can’t hide his weight beneath heavy jackets. In order to avoid summer camp and the bullying he fears will await him, Bobby gets a job mowing lawns — but he still can’t escape the constant criticism from his family. The job proves to be difficult, but Bobby doesn’t give up , and the physical activity ultimately makes him healthier. Although the summer is far from easy, Bobby learns to stand up for himself and respect his body.

8. Wintergirls

By Laurie Halse Anderson

(Ages: 14 and older)

Cassie and Lia’s friendship turns toxic when they begin a contest to see who can become the thinnest. Both girls develop severe eating disorders, and their friendship falls apart.

Without sugarcoating or preaching, Wintergirls depicts the psychological and physical suffering that accompanies eating disorders. The bodies of anorexics and bulimics are often glamorized, and Wintergirls drives home the message that abusing your body has devastating consequences.

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