To the Teacher
In September, 2021 it came to light that Meta, formerly Facebook, was sitting on data they’d gathered from focus groups, online surveys, and diary studies during 2019 and 2020 that cited Instagram as contributing to teens having negative body images—especially teen girls. Meta’s internal documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal stated, “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Long before the advent of electronic media, children and adults bombarded with television and print media also struggled with body image issues, as both television and print have also been found to have a negative impact on self-image.
Recently The Body Positive, a 25-year-old advocacy organization, held its first ever Be Body Positive Week November 1 – 5. According to information on the organization’s website, co-founders Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott founded the organization because of “our shared passion to create a lively, healing community that offers freedom from suffocating societal messages that keep people in a perpetual struggle with their bodies.”
In this lesson, you’ll find five engaging activities you can use in your classroom or school-wide, at any time during the school year, to help teens cope with negative feelings, anxiety, or lack of self-worth related to their body image.
This lesson suggests teaching these activities in five sequential sessions over the course of a “body positive” week.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several factors that affect teens’ body image including:
- Natural or expected weight gain and other changes caused by puberty
- Peer pressure to look a certain way
- Social media and other media images that promote the ideal body as fit, thin, or muscular and encourage users to aspire to unrealistic or unattainable body ideals
- Having a parent who is overly concerned about their own weight or their child's weight or appearance
- Seeing material in which a teen is seen as an object for others' sexual use, rather than an independent, thinking person (sexual objectification)
BodyWhys, a Dublin, Ireland-based organization, offers useful information for teachers who lead Body Positive discussions. They suggest that before beginning these activities with students, teachers should do the following:
Reflect on your own attitudes to weight and body shape. When we tune in to how we speak about bodies, including our own, other people’s or images we see in the media, we may be surprised to discover how we talk about this topic. Reflecting on our attitudes and noticing how these may affect our students can be an important step in changing these behaviors.
Inadvertent, ‘innocent’ comments about shape or weight may contribute to a young person exaggerating the importance of physical appearance in their perception of themselves and may negatively impact on body image and/or self-esteem in young people….[R]eflect on personal attitudes to body image, food or weight prior to lesson delivery and to remember to be mindful of these and the language that we use in discussing this sensitive topic.
Share with students that we’re going to explore together the question of body image and how our society affects the way we feel about our bodies.
Video and Community Healing Circle
Begin by asking students if they’ve heard of body positivity and what they think it means.
Next show the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mP5RveA_tk
Ask students to sit in a circle. A circle can provide a safe, structured environment for each circle member to speak uninterrupted, since only the person with the talking piece speaks while everyone else listens. There’s no crosstalk, and no one is attempting to solve anyone’s issues or concerns. Rather, everyone is listening from the heart to everyone else’s share.
Pass a talking piece around the circle, giving each person an opportunity to share a response to the video. Tell them that it’s okay if a student wants to pass. Then ask:
What stood out for you in the video?
Send the talking piece around again. This time, ask students to share:
Why are struggles with body image so common? What in our daily lives might contribute to this problem?
Consider sharing with students some of the background information above.
Breaking the Cycle
Introduce students to one of the co-founders of The Body Positive, Connie Sobczak. This may help them to understand that struggles with body image and self-esteem have been going on for a long time. Women in generations before them struggled with body image, for many of the same reasons they do – and some are working to challenge this age-old problem.
Read or paraphrase a brief excerpt of Connie’s story:
“Connie’s experience with an eating disorder in her teen years and the death of her sister Stephanie inspired her life’s work to help people live with more appreciation and love for their precious bodies.”
Connie’s sister died over two decades ago at the age of thirty-six. Writes Connie: “She died because she hated her body. The development of an eating disorder in her late teens that she never recovered from, and silicone-leaking breast implants in her early twenties that caused an autoimmune disease, ravaged her body."
Connie founded an organization called The Body Positive in honor of her sister, and “to ensure that her daughter Carmen and other children would grow up in a new world—one where people are free to focus on the things in life that really matter. Connie’s passion is watching the light that emerges when people recognize and embrace their magnificent, authentic selves.”
Give students a few minutes to write down all the ways a negative body image has impacted them thus far in their lives. If they themselves don’t struggle with this problem, ask them to write about someone they know who does.
Tell students they have the freedom and the capability of making different choices about how they view themselves and the thoughts they have about their bodies.
End by asking students to answer the following question for homework. They’ll begin Day 2 by sharing their responses.
If I woke up tomorrow morning and a miracle occurred and I no longer struggled with my body image, what would my day look like—in the morning before school, on the way to school, at school, after school?
If a student does not feel that they struggle with body image, ask them to think of someone they know who does. Ask them to write about how that person’s daily life would be different if they didn’t have to deal with this challenge.
Words Can’t Bring Me Down - But My Own Thoughts Can
Sitting in circle, begin by having students share out their answers to the miracle question.
Afterward, ask students, in circle, to share their responses to this statement:
Christina Aguilera is right, words can’t bring me down. But our own thoughts can.
For homework, students will set a timer for five minutes. They will then free write in a journal or on loose leaf for five minutes without stopping, in response to this assignment:
List and reflect on positive thoughts you have about your body and your life.
Tell students that if or when negative thoughts arise, they should pause and allow a positive thought to enter their consciousness, then record that thought. Students should continue writing without letting their pen leave the page until the timer sounds.
Tik Tok Start the Clock Cuz There’s a New Kid on the Block
Students will work in groups and use whatever social media is appropriate (TikTok, SnapChat) to create body positive videos.
At the end of the period, teachers will ask a couple of students if they would be willing to lead the circle discussion for Day 4 of “body positive week.”
Ask students to come up with circle questions or statement prompts for the circle, which will last the entire class period.
Students lead a community healing circle.
Students fill out assessment forms about the unit.
Ask students to answer a final writing prompt: