Boys and body image have hit the news today. Apparently boys are increasingly concerned about their body image and this is having an adverse impact on their mental health. For those of us who work regularly with boys this is a bit of a ‘tell me something I didn’t know’ moment. However, it’s good to see the issue highlighted and it’s a great moment to stop and take stock and consider how we can most practically help.
The first port of call re teaching about body image remains the PSHE Association Guidance which was funded by the Government Equalities Office (and led by me – it’s a piece of work of which I’m very proud). It talks through how to safely and sensitively teach about body image and to create a school culture and ethos that promotes body confidence and recommends some quality assured resources.
Anyone working with boys and young men will likely have noted an increased awareness of health, fitness and appearance and we need to temper this with the same messages we’ve been used to promoting with girls for a long time:
- Understanding the images we see in the media aren’t a real representation
- Valuing uniqueness and diversity
- Building our self-esteem on many different facets of our character
- Understanding that weight and appearance don’t define our personal worth
- Regardless of our sex / gender identity we need to learn about and discuss factors that may impact both on us and on our friends, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, boyfriends etc.
So what’s different when it comes to boys?
The key thing is that it can be harder to spot when things are going badly wrong and concerns about weight, fitness and appearance has given rise to disordered behaviour. In boys, eating disorders will often masquerade as a high engagement with health or fitness and this is often encouraged as a good thing. Eating well and keeping fit are a hugely positive thing for a teen to be doing… so how can we tell if it goes too far?
Look out for boys (or girls) who are:
- Exercising very regularly
- Taking great care to eat a ‘healthy’ diet
- Using supplements to improve fitness
- Spending a lot of time online in fitness groups / using fitness or health apps
Each of these things are normal behaviours, but the point at which we should be worried is when:
- Food and exercise rules become an obsession that the young person can’t take a day off from. g. They won’t eat cake on a friend’s birthday or plan how they will work out when on holiday
- If you weren’t aware of their attitude to diet and food you would still be worried about the young person, perhaps due to a change in behaviour, mood, attendance or attainment
- You have noticed a rapid change in body shape or weight
- The young person places great value on their weight, shape or appearance and expresses feeling of failure or dejection if they do not live up to their expectations
- The child is too young for their body to be able to sustain the level of exercise
These are all resources I have either used or been involved in the development of. All are resources I would whole-heartedly recommend and all are suitable for use with both boys and girls.
Dove have recently done a major overhaul of their fantastic self-esteem resources and they are now suitable for use with both boys and girls.
Free – suitable for ages 10-16
“Supported by the Government Equalities Office and accredited by the PSHE Association, the resources are designed to build pupils’ emotional resilience as they learn to engage deeper with the messages and methods of advertising. These high-quality resources were created by leading independent experts and will support you in teaching engaging and interactive lessons with key curriculum links to PSHE.
The resources include teacher’s notes and a guide for parents and guardians so that they can discuss this subject at home. We have also created a supporting film featuring young people discussing this issue which you can see a trailer for below.
Teachers can illustrate the lesson with our suggested case studies or, using our guidance, they can choose their own.”
Free online resources for ages 9-11
“Stories and activities to help build self-esteem, confidence, positive body image and resilience in children.
With 29 real life and relatable stories at its heart, this practical resource is designed to help build self-esteem and body confidence in children aged 5-11. Each story is the focus of a ready-to-use lesson plan, covering common issues that affect children such as a lack of body confidence, feeling pressured by peers and worries about puberty.
The stories are preceded by guidance on how to introduce the topic and the learning outcomes, and they are followed by a range of activities to reinforce the messages being taught. The stories can either be read aloud to a class or group or photocopied and shared for individual reading. Perfect for use in PSHE lessons with groups of children, or in one-to-one settings in the therapy room or at home, this book is a useful resource for PSHE co-ordinators, teachers, school counsellors, pastoral care teams, youth workers as well as parents.”
I can’t tell you how much I love this book – I’ve used it with my own girls (aged 6) at home too.
£16.99 age 5-11
“Bodies do all sorts of amazing things, like move around, grow bigger and heal themselves. Bodies also come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and we need to take care of them so that they stay healthy and strong. If we listen to our bodies they tell us exactly what they need.
The colourful illustrations in this unique picture book will encourage children to love their bodies from an early age. By learning about all the wonderful things bodies can do, and how each body is different and unique, children will be inspired to take good care of their bodies throughout their lives. Promoting respect for body diversity among children will also encourage kindness and help prevent bullying.
This book is ideal for children aged 4 and upwards to read at home or school, either alone or with a parent, family member, teacher or other caring professional.”
£10.99 – age 4 and upwards
The research behind today’s reports
I hope you found this helpful. Please leave a comment with any suggestions, questions or areas for further exploration.