Body Image Empowerment in Young People

Concerns and worries about appearance are commonplace among young people. One survey of 11-16 year olds in the UK by Be Real found that 79% said how they look is important to them, and over half (52%) often worry about how they look.

Statutory guidance for Relationships Education and Health Education, which comes into effect in September 2020, ensures that every child is guaranteed a PSHE education that covers learning about safe & healthy relationships (including understanding consent and negotiating life online), physical health (including healthy lifestyles and First Aid), and mental health & wellbeing. With a growing number of young people affected by body image issues and concerns, and with age limit for those being affected dropping year on year it is important that education covers these areas.

A positive body image supports mental and physical health. It can boost confidence and help children develop a healthy image of themselves. A negative body image or body dissatisfaction can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and poor self-perception. It can also affect learning, participant and school achievement, lead to unhealthy eating practices and ultimately increase the risk of developing eating disorders in later life. For young children, attitudes about body shape and size can start as early as three or four years old, when they are becoming aware of societal pressures to look a certain way. For older children, conversations and images shared on social media can be especially harmful. Body image issues do not discriminate between genders.

A young boy with acne

Schools have an important role in creating an environment where everyone else feels special and valued for qualities, talents and skills unrelated to appearance; where children can develop a positive body image for themselves as well as a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Starting early by promoting a healthy sense of self-worth and positive attitudes to body image is thought to help avoid later problems, and this is reflected in our 1decision PSHE learning resources.

1decision seeks to improve body confidence by teaching children to celebrate diversity and difference, valuing each child’s strengths and abilities, being happy and proud with who they are and how they look. Exploring what it feels to be healthy, rather than what it looks like, encouraging healthy food choices and exploring how to keep safe online are all covered and support this crucial area of learning as well as ensuring all statutory curriculum areas are covered.

For further details on this topic, check out some of the links below.

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