The Debate: Should body image lessons be introduced in schools?
In response to the Reflections on Body Image report, MPs have recommended that school children take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons.
With girls as young as five now worrying about their appearance and cosmetic surgery rates increasing by nearly 20% since 2008, there are fears that young people have worrying and unrealistic perceptions of what is healthy.
But would introducing lessons act to affirm positive messages to young people? Or is body image a subject that simply can’t be taught?
Nicky Clark supports the introduction of lessons, while Harriet Walker strongly disagrees. Which do you agree with?
For: Nicky Clark
The publishing of Reflections on Body Image makes for depressing statistical reading. It details, among other things, that the response to the three-month public inquiry co-ordinated by the APPG was that the ideal of physical perfection stems from “media (43.5%), advertising (16.8%) and celebrity culture (12.5%) together account for almost three quarters of the influence on body image in society” .
The report explains that irrespective of how repeatedly we are ‘told and sold” this image which we are conditioned to crave, 95% of the population will never achieve this.
I wholeheartedly welcome the idea of teaching body image classes to children because sadly we are at a point where we have to. This report sourced experts and produced information and explanation which should make us all stop and question ourselves.
However sad it is to read the statistics which the report contains, there is a human cost of a societal view of the perfect body image bombarding us everyday with an unreachable goal.
The net result of a pre-occupation with how we look is that fact that those who don’t subscribe to the “norm” suffer the wrath of those do or those who try. What we are fast losing sight of is the notion that just because you look different doesn’t mean you are incapable of feelings. This is best demonstrated by the sickening mocking response to the recent news of Georgia Davies, a 19 year old in organ failure who collapsed from a seizure in her home. The fact that Georgia weighed 63 stone apparently negated any sympathy or recognition of her as a human being on the point of death. Her weight, we were assured, was her own and her family’s fault, and therefore the wrath of her diversity was swift and vindictive. There was no wish to dig a little deeper and learn Georgia’s story. Looking at her, it seems, was all the information some people needed to fuel their “justifiable blame”.
We endure fear of difference too. Everytime I take my learning disabled daughter out of the house, she runs the gamut of looks stares verbal abuse and disdain. She has learning disabilities, autism and epilepsy; she’s also tall and draws the eye with her vocal sounds and physical gestures. She doesn’t look like other people so she, like Georgia, mustn’t feel the same things they feel. Both girls have been appraised in these perfection dominated days of ours and found wanting.
I spoke to Susan Ringwood CEO of Beat, a national eating disorder charity which delivers training in schools in an effort to promote positive body image, who said:
“Body image isn’t a trivial matter of just wanting to look good, it’s a fundamental part of our identity. In its most serious form, we know that some people are particularly vulnerable to developing an eating disorder because their body image is so negative and distorted. That is why Beat is committed to providing secondary schools with lessons that can be part of building a positive body image. We know that will help everyone become more resilient to the influences that are positively toxic to some.”
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor once said “you can never be too rich or too thin”. Sadly our children seem to be in desperate need of learning that in a diverse society these words are not an aspiration for life.
Against: Harriet Walker
The Government’s proposal of body image classes for school children is a classic instance of those in power totally missing the point. That the Reflections on Body Image report was commissioned and – what’s more – properly seen through, is a step in the right direction, of course, but this cod-science conclusion utterly nullifies the validity of its findings. It’s yet another instance of buzzword-ism and watered-down social sciences purporting to be practical and useful in the quotidian.
But if body image classes come to pass, they’ll be even more of an opportunity for dossing than career talks and PHSE.
Because body image is not something you can teach. It’s something absorbed, from parents and friends, from culture and the media: these are those that need classes, not the innocent sponge that quietly sucks up whatever glossy, pouting imagery they are presented with from an early age. You can tell someone they’re not fat, or that they’re beautiful in their own way, until you’re blue in the face, but they won’t believe it until they see some form of public representation that they can identify with.
The problem lies not, as many would wag the finger and bluster about, with the fashion industry or the catwalk. Time was, models and high-end visuals were ubiquitous and influential on street culture, but the internet and the rise of celebrity mean these sectors are no longer the last word in aspirational chic.
The study found that numbers of people choosing to have cosmetic surgery have gone up nearly 20 per cent since 2008. These procedures include nose jobs, boob jobs, bum lifts and tummy tucks: the trappings of celebrity and reality TV, rather than anything more traditionally fashionable. And this points directly to where the problem with body image really lies.
It’s with trash TV and celebrity culture, and the magazines which run editorials of some D-lister in a string bikini whose body is the only real reason they have become famous. Rather than running classes in why one shouldn’t aspire to look this way, why not run some kind of campaign to decrease the importance of all these blow-up dolls and bimbos? Why not offer a positive intellectual alternative to the cringy cosmetic culture of TOWIE and Katie Price?
Why not use the time spent teaching kids about body image to do something more constructive, something that will teach them there is life and success beyond your vital statistics? Body image classes will work the same way as basic reverse psychology, surely, and if we give anymore credence to the plastic lifestyle, we’ll end up validating rather than vilifying it.
Leave your comments belowTagged in: appearance, body image, debate, diet, education, Reflections on Body Image report, school, self-esteem, teenager, weight
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