I have a no fat talk policy.
Sometimes I break that rule in my own life. For all my talk about healthy body image, there are still days when I don't feel great about what I see in the mirror. I still struggle with worrying about numbers--the digits on the scale or the measurement of my waist. I'm aware that those feelings may be around in some capacity for the rest of my life and I try to acknowledge those negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.
In my studio, it's much easier to enforce the policy. I spoke on a podcast recently about how I try to encourage my students to think and talk positively about their bodies. As a teacher and role model (Scary!) for young girls, it's important to be aware of how even the tiniest comments can cause dancers to be self-conscious or overly self-critical.
For example, I know some teachers say things like "Don't show me what you had for breakfast!" or "Hold in those pizza rolls!" to instruct dancers to hold in their stomachs. Those kinds of phrases are unhelpful on a number of levels. First, they usually cause dancers to "suck in" rather than engage their centers. Second, a sensitive dancer could easily interpret such a correction as a comment about her weight. Third, they make eating food seem like a bad thing for a dancer to do. Finally, they're just squicky and weird.
Instead, I say things like "draw your belly button in" for younger dancers or just "engage your abdominals" for older students. There are so many ways of giving this correction (or similar ones) without being crazy and demeaning.
If I hear a student saying something negative about a part of her (or his) body, I try to jump in with something positive to counteract it like saying they have beautiful long arms, or strong legs or a nice line in a position. It seems sort of silly, meaningless even, but I really believe these small things can make a big difference in how an adolescent girl sees herself, especially if she gets a lot of criticism about her appearance or abilities at home or school.
Along with speaking positively about others' bodies, we dance teachers need to be careful how we speak about our own appearance in front of our students. It's tempting to be self-deprecating for a laugh or just because we're not feeling that great about ourselves on a particular day. But remember that these girls are watching your behavior and listening to your words. Create a healthy, encouraging environment and you'll cultivate healthy, confident dancers.