Body image can be defined as:
“How people feel about the way they look and the way their body functions. This can include a person’s thoughts and feelings about their weight, shape, skin colour, size, height and their appearance more broadly.”
New research into body dissatisfaction and emotional problems suggests that we need to take into account age and gender when trying to tackle emotional problems and body dissatisfaction. Targeting emotional problems in primary school and in the early years of secondary schools for boys may have an impact on later levels of body dissatisfaction
Young people pay far more attention to what adults do than what they say. If we teach them about positive body image but do not embody the thoughts, feelings and behaviours we’re working to encourage, then we send pupils mixed messages and contradict our own teaching. It is very easy to slip into:
■ ‘fat talk’ (self-deprecating commentary on our own appearance)
■ complimenting people on weight loss (even if it’s weight they didn’t need to lose)
■ implying that someone’s appearance is the most important thing about them
■ chatter about unflattering photos of celebrities
■ talking negatively about how appearance changes with age.
While none of these are necessarily problematic in moderation, the problem is that in our culture they are not discussed in moderation, so that young people are saturated with these messages on a daily basis.
• Ensure there are always clear, consistent ground rules when talking about this subject.
• Discourage fat-shaming and equation of human worth with body shape.
• Use inclusive images wherever possible including people of different ethnicities, genders, abilities and disabilities, body shapes and cultures.
• Enable pupil voice.
• Take into account that boys have body issues too and the 2 genders may not want to discuss this in front of each other.
• Complete separate work with boys and young men where needed.
• Avoid weight stigmatisation.
• Enable and encourage questions and discussion.
Resources that can be used in the classroom or for targeted support
PSHE Association Key standards to keep to when teaching about body image.
Rise Above – Body Image in a digital world
Encourage students to explore what body image is, how social media can impact it and ways to reduce stress or anxiety caused by online pressures.
The Be Real Campaign have developed a Body Confidence Campaign Toolkit for Schools promoting body confidence in students aged 11 to 16.
Dove Self Esteem Resources – Teaching resources and useful guides for teachers.
Media Smart Resources – useful online activity and lesson plan (PDF) that allows an exploration of body image through the creation of online avatars mirroring the decisions children make when choosing how they are represented in computer games.
Body image and boys Media Smart and First News have come together to create the Boys’ Biggest Conversation – a campaign to encourage young men, across the UK, to talk about body image and the effect it has on their mental wellbeing.
Body image and girls is a mindfulness activity guide for mentors of girls 11-14 years. The Mindful Me activity guide, developed with psychologists, experts and pioneers in body image and girl development, helps girls build body confidence and self-esteem.
Your Body is Brilliant, Body Respect for Children (Singing Dragon) – Sigrun Danielsdottir, illustrated by Bjork Bjarkdottir. The colourful illustrations in this picture book will help children learn to love their bodies from an early age and appreciate all the wonderful things their bodies do.
Childline – 5 top tips to help you feel better about yourself.