- identify different messages about body image coming from or directed at different cultural groups, historical periods, gender and age groups;
- gain critical awareness about the source of beliefs about body size and shape;
- identify specific actions they can take to move beyond physical appearance as a guiding force in their social lives;
- work on an attitude of acceptance toward their own and others’ diverse body shapes and sizes.
- Where do ideas about body size and shape come from?
- What problems can result from a narrow definition of the size and shape a body should take?
- How can we work to combat negative body image in ourselves and in our peers?
- chart paper
- printouts of the following images and accompanying captions
There are a variety of resources for children about body image in different contexts. This article addresses differences in body image in a variety of cultures. Images of idealized bodies from different decades can be found here. Common Sense media addresses body image issues specific to young boys. Finally, this website addresses a variety of issues pertaining to diversity of body image.
This is the third lesson of the series, I See You, You See Me: Body Image and Social Justice, designed to help students think about their bodies and body image as related to broader issues of social justice and to explore the harm created from stereotypes.
Children are often exposed to images of beauty from mainstream media. They are not, however, given the opportunity to reflect on body image as a social construction. Ideas and ideals about how bodies should look, move and be vary tremendously depending upon cultural context, historical period, age group, gender and other variables.
This lesson introduces children to the concept that beauty is not a static concept but is, in fact, socially constructed. Helping children think critically about what messages about bodies are sent to and from different groups of people is a good step toward helping them feel empowered in their own bodies, and also toward helping them respect differences in those around them.
body image [BOD-ee IM-ij]
(noun) how someone thinks about their own body, or how someone thinks other people look at their own body
(adjective) different, showing different points of view or coming from different backgrounds
- Remind students of previous discussions about body image and particularly discussions in relation to the media. Ask students to share their current opinions about where ideas regarding body image come from—what types of media, what people in their lives and so on. Chart student responses.
- Explain to students that many people feel that body image is a social construction—in other words, it is not true that there is one perfect way for bodies to be. We learn our ideas about this topic from the world around us. Explain that one of the best ways to understand this topic is to look at images of beauty shown by and to a variety of different groups of people.
- Break students into five groups and give each group one of the images from the materials section with the attached caption. (Note: For pre-literate students, be sure to read the caption to them as you hand them the image.) Have each group spend some time discussing the image and answering the following questions. Older students should respond to the questions in writing, while younger students should simply talk about the questions that feel most accessible to them or to you as their teacher.
- What stands out to you about what this image is trying to show you is beautiful?
- How do you think someone in the same racial, ethnic, historical, gender or age group as the person or people in the picture might be impacted by this image?
- How do you think someone in a different racial, ethnic, historical, gender or age group might be impacted by this image?
- What does this image try to teach you about what is beautiful?
- Gather students, and have each group share their image and highlights from their group discussion. Ask students to draw conclusions from each other’s presentation. Challenge them to think about how different cultures, time periods, age groups and genders are presented with different body image ideals. Explain that while it is important to keep this diverse perspective in mind, it is also true that any ideal can be just as harmful as it is helpful. You may want to also explain to students that some people argue that many cultures are becoming more and more exposed to body image ideals from the United States and are changing their own ideals to conform. For example, see thisor this. Students will likely have strong opinions about this phenomenon.
- Ask students to consider how they could use a diverse perspective on possible body image to alter how they think about themselves and others. Go around the circle and ask each child to finish the sentence “Beautiful is … .” If kids have trouble getting started, offer words like strong, brown-haired, big-footed, etc. to give them some ideas. As you or your students offer adjectives, chart them so that the group can refer back to them throughout the series. Your documentation will also help reinforce the idea that there are various definitions of beauty even within your group. Encourage them to listen respectfully and note the variety in people’s ideas of beauty.
Activities address the following Common Core Anchor Standards for Language Arts and Social Studies.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.7 Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
Speaking and Listening
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1b Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1c Ask questions to check understanding of information presented, stay on topic, and link their comments to the remarks of others.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1d Explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.
When students go home, encourage them to attend to different representations of beauty in the world around them. These representations are sometimes correlated with ideas about what constitutes a healthy body, and they are sometimes dictated by any number of other cultural forces. Have them pay attention to what they see on media, but also to what their families describe. Give students a chance to report back and note the diversity of responses—body image comes from the world around us and is not at all absolute.
When students share adjectives for describing beauty, encourage English language learners to develop their descriptive vocabulary. They may use the class chart for reference, and practice writing or speaking sample sentences that incorporate these adjectives. Encourage English language learners to use these adjectives in their daily spoken language so that they become part of their active vocabulary.