A 2017 study directly spells out how to creating a body confident school environment, "Body image issues and eating problems are best prevented when teachers are trained, school policies are changed, and the school enviroment is modified" to consider body image issues. That is exactly what we are doing here, with 4 Steps for Schools to Create a Body Confident Environment.
Teachers in the United Kingdom who have taught body image for years think students gain quite a bit from this type of body image discussion. The UK is way ahead of the US, in terms of government mandates on teaching body image curriculum in the schools. The UK teachers thought that kids who are taught body image lessons are:
- More likely to look after their bodies
- More likely to value health over appearance
- Better general mental health
- More likely to participate both in the classroom and in activities outside school
- Improved chances of fulfilling their potential – particularly academically
Be Real Campaign, UK 2016
Step two is about creating the resources to Identify Disordered Eating Symptoms in schools. In a perfect world this would include designating a person at your school to be a resource on body image and eating disorders. Schools are the perfect place to detect and direct students at risk for eating disorders. Experts suggest designating this school resource person to focus on nutrition, eating disorders, and prevention.
This point person could do in-service training and implimentation of universal and high-risk eating disorder prevention programs. This point person could be a social worker or nurse and receive appropriate training, allowing them to conduct staff training sessions and act as a resouce when students or staff have questions.
The checklist below is the type of resource that a point person at the school could give to teachers who are best in a postition to notice them, as they see students daily. This is a list of typical physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms of eating disorders.
Step three is about adopting anti-bullying practices at school. A 2011 study on bullying by the National Education Association found that bullying for weight and size were the most reported incidents of school bullying. Size-ism beat out sexism, racism and sexual orientation bullying. Bullying for disability and religion were numbers four and five on the list.
I mentioned this statistic to my 86-year-old father who used to be bullied as a kid. He has quite a bit of dementia, he doesn't know if he's had lunch on any given day, but can still tell you what kids said and did to him at school when he was 10 years old.
This is a well cited quote from the National Education Association report on size discrimination a few years back:
“For fat students the school experience is of one of ongoing prejudice, unnoticed discrimination, and almost constant harassment. From nursery school through college, fat students experience ostracism, discouragement, and sometimes violence.”
The last thing schools can do to create a body confident environment is to make sure the school is using tested, evidence-based body image curriculum in health or advisory classes. I am recommending Dove’s Confident Me curriculum. It is part of Dove’s Self Esteem (DSEP) project. DSEP created the curriculum about 10 years ago, and it’s been tested and improved upon year after year. The newest version in the US is 6 months old. The experts are on the forefront of the research on body image. It is a free resource in 50 countries.
There are 2 versions of Confident Me. There’s a5 Session workshop and Single ession workshop. The 5 Session workshop is made to be delivered in five 50 minutes class sessions.