Our Year 8 pupils recently took part in a Moving On Up Day. The purpose of this was to give the children space and time to think about the idea of Body Image. Talks were delivered by staff and pupils were encouraged to explore this issue on a personal level, with friends and in group sessions.
We felt it important for boys to realise that strength was not simply about muscles, but that character and integrity should also be valued. Girls needed to realise that beauty is not skin deep and that obsessing over things like weight and looks could ultimately damage self-esteem.
However, these are not messages given to our young people by society. Adverts, for example, suggest that things like muscles and make-up, play a big part in success.
I remember discussing the idea of self-image with a class. One of the children commented that managing self-esteem these days is incredibly difficult, particularly when it comes to comparison. For example, when I was growing up, beauty magazines portrayed models as ‘perfect’. However, we did have the ability to say to ourselves ‘yes, but that’s a model, of course they look good’. However, the student I spoke to told me that these days social media plays a huge part in self-esteem issues.
Where once children compared themselves with models and rested in the fact that these people were paid to look good, now children are comparing themselves with someone in the same school, or in the town next door. Apps allow people to change their look and there is increasing pressure on children to share images of themselves with others. As technology advances, so does the pressure for our children to look a certain way.
As a school we work very hard to ensure children have the opportunity to share concerns that may be linked to low self-esteem or body image. For example, they have formal Tutor sessions twice a week, with an additional chance to speak to their Tutor each morning. PSHE lessons explore challenges faced in life. We have placed ‘worry boxes’ in our Key Stage 1 and 2 classrooms and our Anti-bullying committee have recently started the ‘ABC walkabout’, where nominated children spend time out and about at breaktimes to pick up on any bullying from a peer level. In addition to this, we have recently employed a new school counsellor, who is available should the children want to talk through anything that is worrying them.
However, we are always aware that families are able to impact the lives of pupils on a much deeper level. Many of our children have strong relationships with parents, siblings and extended family. In the past, parents have asked us how they can support children when it comes to issues regarding self-esteem. I light of this, we wanted to share some suggestions of how children can be supported at home.
The first thing to mention is that much of what children learn is modelled by us as parents. With this in mind, here are some tips to ensure we positively influence our children:
Modelling body comfort –
- If we exercise, we should try not to discuss ‘losing’ weight or building muscle, it should be about being healthy.
- We should try not to focus on our own outward appearance (let children realise that inner qualities are important too!).
- Avoid talking about dieting; try to refer to ‘healthy eating’
- If we avoid being in photographs because we worry about how we look, children may, eventually copy this behaviour. Although it’s difficult, try to be natural in front of the camera.
- That said…if we spend too much time taking ‘selfies’, children will pick up on this too and may copy us. This is something we should avoid. Frequently, social media allows children to comment on other people’s looks, while choosing to ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ images of others. It’s an area of life they are best to avoid.
Demonstrate respect –
- We must show children what it is like to be respectful to others, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Surround your boys with men who speak well of women and vice versa! We need to encourage our children to think beyond looks and what they can gain physically from a relationship. This is difficult to do in a society that calls on people to be in romantic relationships simply because of the way someone looks.
- Praise children (and other people) for what they achieve rather than how they look. Think too about how you discuss others, do we comment on outward appearance or qualities?
Build resilience in children
- Life can be difficult, the more resilient a child is, the better the chance that they will ignore that negative comment and feel happy in their own skin!
- Give them opportunities to be children. Let them live outdoors and challenge themselves. Allowing them to get muddy, or messy, or sweaty is a good way of saying ‘you don’t need to look perfect all the time’.
Teach them about media/world expectations and reality.
- Children need to realise that not everything they see or experience on social media is real. This is a really useful clip:
- Be aware of the pressures that Social Media and other children may be putting on our children. As with everything, conversation is so important. The more we spend time talking with our children, the greater the chance of picking up on an issue such as low self-esteem, anorexia or bullying.
As the world changes, so do the expectations on our children. In a time where ‘image’ seems to be so important it is important to work as a team to ensure our children feel valued, cared about and supported.
If more information on this would be useful, please do have a look at the Dove Self-Esteem Project: