Lisa Fathers, Director of Teaching School and Partnerships at Alliance for Learning, part of Bright Futures Educational Trust, offers tips on how to address the topic of body image with young people, for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May).
Body image is our perception of our appearance. It’s based on how we see ourselves and also how we think other people see us and the two things are often very different! Positive and negative experiences and relationships can affect body image.
How you see yourself, the world and your place in it affects the choices you make, the confidence you have to take risks and also who you choose to spend time with. If you do not feel acceptance of your own body image, you may seek short-term friends or engage in risky behaviour, or even make bad choices. Negative body image can also result in social anxiety about many more things. Body image matters because it is tied to our self-worth.
Some top tips to keep in mind when talking about body image with young people:
- Positive self-talk and self-acceptance is key. Adopting this attitude yourself and encouraging others to do the same is really important. This means not making comparisons to others and accepting who we are
- Focus on personal qualities and efforts that have nothing to do with physical appearance. Every child has a gift, passion or a love of something. Nurture the thing they enjoy doing. Doing what you love creates a sense of self and is important to help develop positive self image-based values
- Emphasising health over looks is so important. Don’t put a lot of emphasis on physical appearance and instead, talk about all the different aspects that make up a person e.g. personality, skills and outlook on life
- When you witness negative body image messages, talk about them openly. Observe pop culture, media and sports and have conversations about messages conveyed around beauty, gender roles and health, recognising when images may have been altered or airbrushed.
- A strong sense of identity and self-worth are vital for a child’s self-esteem. Encouraging them to be able to express their feelings and be individual while giving them opportunities to problem solve and come up with their own coping strategies for setbacks will help them to build their confidence, improve resilience and deal with challenges
- If a child is affected by peer pressure, bullying, or is self-conscious about their body image talk to their school. Schools can be a positive environment for fostering healthy body image and self-esteem and should have number of policies in place to deal with these sorts of issues