“Body image issues and eating problems are best prevented when teachers are trained, school policies and school environment are modified, and parents are involved.”
We directly asked the high school kids, “Is it important to discuss body image in school? We got an overwhelming YES answer to the question. 91% of the kids we surveyed thought we shouldtalk about this in school. This is what they said,
Body image is not a regular topic of conversation in most homes today.
Your body image unit in health class might be the first and only discussion the kids ever get on this topic, a bit like sex education was at the beginning of that discussion in schools.
We’re going to talk about 4 Steps schools can take to create a body confident environment.
Step 1 is to EDUCATE TEACHERS, COACHES AND PARENTS about body confidence.
The first piece of this step is for teachers and coaches to explore their own values and attitudes regarding weight, dieting, and body image. Here’s where we might be stuck in those cultural ruts on body image that we just talked about.
Do we believe thinner is just better?
Do we believe it’s our life’s work to weigh less?
Do we believe we have a great amount of control over our bodies, possibly unrealistic due to our genes and our aging?
This question was so crucial to the researchers and writers who created the body image curriculum, that they used to require the body image curriculum only be taught by trainers, not teachers.
These cultural ruts were the reason. The belief was that a teacher couldn’t teach a child to be body confident if the teacher believed that all kids needed to have a certain BMI and have their weight in a certain percentile – which has been the norm for may health teachers in the past .But this is changing quickly.
The thinking today is to focus all attention on self-care, which includes healthy eating and exercise, but not focusing on getting specific results.
The next piece of advice it to be a sane voice on this topic. Most teacher absolutely get their role in promoting positive self-image and self-esteem in their students and athletes.
I have a story of high school girl who moved 3 times in 3 years and had to re-do her health class 3 times in 3 different schools. She was given 3 vastly different paradigms on what is considered healthy eating. She found that the nutritional information depended on the teacher’s own beliefs. Kids get so much conflicting information about this; we adults are subjected to so much conflicting information ourselves, it is no wonder:
One teacher was on the Whole 30 and told the kids sugar was the devil and caused cancer;
One teacher told her to write down everything she ate to keep track of her food, and she became paranoid of eating certain foods. She was spending a ton of time tracking her food intake and would get in bed every night and run through in her mind what she had eaten that day.
The last teacher told her she could eat everything in moderation and didn’t have to count.But, this teacher didn’t give her a sense of how to figure out moderation, so she felt a bit lost.
In a FoodPsyche Podcast: psychologist Elizabeth Scott says one sane adult on this topic in a child’s life can make a world of difference to that child.Think of yourself as that one sane adult.
Many adults up here are the opposite of that sane voice for their kids. Many parents increase the pressure on them to fit into a physical mold.
Next you want to avoid taking body measurements. Eliminate weigh in policy for sports except when absolutely necessary.Anything that has the kids disclose estimates of their body shape and size should not be used, like taking:
body mass index (BMI)
You also want to emphasize the positive. We want to be grateful forwhat your body does for you, appreciating its:
When it feels well
When it heals
And, lastly, you want to Understand the power of your words:don’t want to talk about weight or body size —no matter how SUBTLE, slight, or “in fun.” Many children with disordered eating symptoms has been teased or bullied about the size or shape of their body.
We had a quote on our high school survey from a boy in class that said: “I won’t make fun of anybody because it isn’t nice and people take it to heart.”
Avoid words that focus on weight or body size like “skinny,” “obese,” “fat,” or “chubby.”Even the words “big,” “small,” beg the question, “Bigger or smaller than what?”
The message the kids can get is that we measure a person’s worth by their size
Try to focus instead on health and what your body can do, for example: talking about “strong,” “fit,” or “healthy” bodies.
Avoid judging people by their appearance, including yourself
This is what might cause the most damage to kids and adults with regard to body shame -- the fear of being judged.We often assume people are judging us cause we hear other people talking about others’ appearance.
This category includes the popular “fat talk” or “body talk” that many girls and women engage in today.
This is where a girl puts herself down, compliments another person and begs a compliment, for example, when a girl says, “I hate my legs, but you have great legs” and then another girl replies, “No, you have great legs, I hate my hair, and you have the best hair . . .”
This is socially acceptable in girl-world today, but studies say this actually measurably lowers self-esteem.
You want to avoid talking about “junk” food or “bad” vs “good” foods;
It’s a very short leap from “food is bad “to “I am bad for eating it!”
We want to develop the idea that we should aim to eat the right amounts of different types of foods rather than stigmatizing foods.
We want to focus on the idea of nourishing your body well
You’ll also want to avoid comments about changing your appearance by dieting, exercising and weight training.
The message you are modeling to the kids could be that your body is a “thing that needs fixing”
Instead we want to talk about “getting healthy, fit and strong”
And for those of you who are coaches, you want to take some focus off their bodies and put it on areas that athletes can control to improve performance
Athletes need accurate information about healthy weight, body composition, good nutrition, sports performance, and the impact of bad nutrition.
You also want to emphasize the health risks of low weight, especially for female athletes with irregular periods or periods that have stopped.
Coaches and trainers should get basic eating disorder training.Eating disordered athletes are great at hiding some of their disordered behavior.