Do you feel both frustrated and concerned that often in your classes so many girls are worried about their appearance? That this preoccupation with how they look affects their concentration in the class-room? Even that their self-consciousness about their bodies holds them back from putting their hand up?  I think many girls (and increasingly boys, but I’m focusing on girls here) are affected by body image worries.  In this blog I’m sharing three ways we can improve girls’ body confidence.

Tough media environment for girls

Sadly, our mainstream media, social media and celebrity culture communicates to girls that their appearance is what defines them. This can be hard enough for adult women to navigate. But girls receive these messages at a time when their bodies are changing as they go through puberty, which makes them particularly vulnerable. And this anxiety about body image can significantly impact their self-esteem, and cause anxiety.

As their teacher you can see that these girls have so much to offer, and it’s heart-breaking that many girls reduce themselves to the one dimension of their looks, and do not value all the talents, skills and personality they have to offer.

A key area of the Confidence Workshop is to help improve girls’ body confidence.  I’m sharing in this blog three aspects for this topic.

1.Messages about a “perfect body” start in toddler years

I start by examining the extent of the messages that we receive about “perfect bodies”.  In fact, this starts from the earliest movies we see as young children.  For example, the way Disney princesses are drawn in every single movie.  If you look at the illustration at the top of this blog, and and look at the width of her eyes compared to the width of her teeny-tiny waist you can see how utterly unrealistic this is!

And these are the images we are all seeing from the youngest age.

We can start to improve girls’ body confidence by helping them understand that the images they see are unrealistic and don’t represent what real girls’ and women’s bodies look like.

2. One body type dominates the media (an analogy about blue cats!)

A powerful analogy I use to communicate the dominance in the media of one body type of models and many actresses (a body type of tall, very thin, narrow hips) is to ask the girls to imagine they were a red cat, but all they ever saw around them were blue cats – how would that make them feel? Responses include it would make them feel isolated, lonely, different, self-conscious.

I explain that the blue cats represent the actresses and models in the media who all share this one body type, whereas in reality the world is full of many different body shapes and sizes (and so in the analogy real bodies are like a world of multi-coloured cats, not just blue cats). It’s just that in the media, for the most part, we are only shown one body type.

So to improve girls’ body confidence it’s important for all of us to observe real girls and women all around us to see just how many different shapes and sizes there are. As the wonderful late Anita Roddick expressed it (and I remember seeing on a poster in The Body Shop) “There are 3 billion women in the world who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do”.

3. Our inner selves

As well as helping girls to understand the media messages they are receiving and the real diversity of body shapes, I work with girls using specific activities to help them accept and like their own bodies. I feel it’s crucial to put body image in the context of their whole person, in order to gain balance that our looks are only a single dimension of ourselves.   This is often the break-through moment to help improve girls’ body confidence.

One of the ways I communicate this is give a small white box to a girl and ask her to describe what she sees. She opens the box and describes the colourful necklace within (and doesn’t describe the box at all). I then hold up both the box and necklace up to the group, and query with them what the student said about the box – nothing!  I explain that if all they worry about is what they look like and what other people look like, they are only thinking about the white box – not what matters, which is what’s inside.

This is a powerful exercise, and often received by lots of ‘aaaahhhhs’ from the group!

There are so many ways to support girls to accept and build confidence in their bodies, I’ve shared a few of my approaches here, and the Confidence workshop covers many more.

From January 2022, this Confidence workshop will available as online training and resources for teachers, so they are able to run these sessions with their students themselves at school.  This will include resources on the ideas outlined above, as well as several other activities to improve girls’ body confidence.

There are more details on the training and resources available here.

This training will be available in January 2022. To receive details when it’s released, please complete your details in the form below.

Illustration of a Disney princess, used in an exercise to build girls body confidence
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