Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Issue - Strike a Pose against Unreal Body Images: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Issue - Strike a Pose against Unreal Body Images: News

Article excerpt

Schools can help students resist the pressure to conform to an unrealistic idea of 'perfection' by building up their self-esteem.

You don't have to look far to see evidence of the damaging impact that negative body image has on today's school students. Both boys and girls are bombarded constantly with depictions of the perfect look and body, and they struggle against the pressure to conform to that fabricated, unattainable and unreal goal. It can result in bullying, self- harm, depression and, tragically on occasions, loss of life.

According to the 2010 Dove global study entitled The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited, 53 per cent of girls in the UK avoid certain activities because they feel bad about their looks; for the same reason, 22 per cent of girls won't go the beach or pool and 19 per cent won't go to a social event, party or club.

The situation is the same for boys - images of perfect men are just as prevalent in the media and the impact just as worrying. Recent research published in the US journal Pediatrics ( found that more than 40 per cent of boys in middle school and high school in the US regularly exercised with the sole aim of increasing muscle mass, while 34.7 per cent used protein powders or shakes and 6 per cent admitted to using steroids.

But how do we counteract the onslaught of the perfect body image? The first practical step is to identify how self-esteem, which underpins body confidence, can be nurtured.

The way parents bring up their child is important in creating strong self- esteem. Key indicators for "good" parents are: unconditional support; providing boundaries that the child has had a say in creating; and the consistent use of rewards and punishments. But children don't get to choose their parents, so does that mean that young people have a natural cap on their confidence potential?

I believe not. Teachers can have a positive impact. In a child's formative years, if the seeds of high self-esteem are sown, it can blossom into lifelong confidence.

Dispel the myths

This process has to begin in the 7- to 11-year-old age group. Teachers need to develop body confidence by dispelling some of the myths about models and revealing that lighting, digital photography, make-up and Photoshop image manipulation can enable anyone to have the "perfect" look. …

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