Body Image, The Media & Schools

10 Mar

Note: This post is centered around the body image of girls.  Most of the information is applicable to boys but I do not specifically reference any males.  I do believe that male body image issues are just as frequently occurring and as  important to discuss as females’.

Body image is something that I have been interested in for many years.  Growing up, I can always remember having a poor body image but I have always managed to maintain a fairly healthy lifestyle.  I know how lucky I am to have been supported and not let poor body image overtake my life like many girls who have to struggle with eating disorders. This post will explore the connections between body image, the media, and what I think schools should be doing about it.

Body Image and the Media

I grew up surrounded by media and inaccurate representations of what a beautiful woman should look like.  I envied Disney princesses, Barbie dolls, and the girls in magazines. However, I believe the media has become more powerful and more and more girls are being exposed to  unhealthy representations of women. Many girls don’t realize that almost all magazine photos have been retouched, all of their “flaws” erased.  Check out this video, which looks at some photo retouching that happens in magazines today.  In addition to photo retouching, many of the celebrities that appear in these magazines have nutritionists and personal trainers – something that many of us cannot afford. Many models and celebrities stay thin through unhealthy eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.  I am troubled by the amount of people that look up to these people and aim to look like them.  I do believe there are many positive role models but we, as a society, have so much more work to do.

My Experience in Schools

I used to wonder why my school never discussed eating disorders or gave presentations about it, like they did with drinking and doing drugs.  In my opinion, eating disorders and poor body image were almost just as prevalent in my school. I knew many girls who were anorexic, bulimic and/or over-exercising. I know one girl who still struggles with her disorder, which began when she was about 12.  She is turning 22 this year – imagine 10 years of constantly struggling with food and never feeling happy with yourself.   Another troubling fact is that eating disorders are linked to depression, which only intensifies the problem.

What Should Schools Do?

I know that body image is an issue that is present in elementary schools as I have heard healthy young girls comment on how “fat” they are. I worry about these girls and feel that schools need to start promoting healthy body image at a young age.  I think that teaching about nutrition is a good start but I feel that we should be discussing ways to love our bodies beginning in Kindergarten.  Teachers need to support students in learning to celebrate their unique body shape and size.  We should focus on healthy lifestyles that include balanced, nutritious foods and physical activity.  In addition, I believe schools should have speakers come and talk to the students about positive body image and disorders.  These presentations not only educate students but they encourage them to open up and get help if they need it.

I know that body image and may not be the first priority for schools but I believe it is still important.  I know that this blog post is somewhat scattered but I just have a lot of thoughts.   I am very passionate about promoting positive body image at a young age because of my experiences and the people I know.  I encourage you to examine your own body image and think of ways that you can support your students.  I’d love to hear your ideas. Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy post.

I invite you to watch the HBO documentary, THIN, that inspired me to write this blog post.

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2 Responses to “Body Image, The Media & Schools”

  1. Danielle Degelman March 10, 2011 at 1:17 PM #

    About a week ago, I discussed the same topic in my own blog. Growing up, I also didn’t feel so great about myself and wanted to look like all those “perfect”, skinny girls in magazines. Unfortunately, I didn’t…but most of my teachers emphasized the positive things about their students. When I had these teachers, I felt better about myself and did my best to celebrate the things I DO have.

    You can read my post if you like (from March 4th). Here, I included a Dove commercial that shows young girls who wish they were prettier in some way. I also included resources that address girls’ preoccupation with media. As teachers, we have a huge responsibility in making every girl feel special and beautiful in her own way.

    http://degelmand.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/what-is-beauty/

  2. mdhorvath March 10, 2011 at 3:48 PM #

    Thanks Danielle! I read your post and agree with all of your points. I watched the Dove commercial and believe that it does have the power to do good. However, when taking the Sociology of Gender I discovered that Dove’s parent company creates skin-whitening creams for women in places like India. Also, the women in the Dove ads were photo-shopped, which is disappointing. I am just frustrated because it seems like companies only pretend to do good when really they’re just doing whatever it takes to sell their products. All that said, I still think the commercials do send a positive message. I personally felt better about myself after watching it, even though I know it’s hypocritical.

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