12th October 2018
Today I taught my Year 5s about body image and the media. I showed them a natural photo of me, as shown in this post, where I am wearing no makeup; there is no filter and no editing of any form. 18 months ago I actually stopped wearing heavy eye makeup on a daily basis. I then showed them a photo of myself that I deliberately edited for this lesson. I had changed the size and shape of my face, plumped up my lips, whitened my teeth, brightened my eyes, smoothed out my skin, removed my bags etc.
At first, I gave out these photos separately to groups of children in my class – some had the natural photo and others had the “photo shopped” one. I asked them to be honest about what they thought about my photo. Regardless of the photo, they came up with similar comments – I looked ‘happy,’ ‘bright,’ ‘relaxed,’ ‘cheesy smile,’ ‘cheeky,’ and ‘pretty.’ Some children with the natural photo also said that I looked ‘calm,’ ‘kind’ and ‘young.’
Then I put both photos next to each other and my children gasped. The groups with the edited photo didn't realise that it had been digitally enhanced until both photos were displayed together. I wrote down their thoughts about both photos, as shown in this post. They told me that they preferred the natural photo as opposed to the 'fake.' I also showed them photos of male and female celebrities before and after they had been "photo shopped." They didn’t understand why the media would perpetually ‘lie’ about what people look like in order to create a magazine cover, gain popularity or advertise a product.
For a group of 9 and 10 year olds, the discussion was profound, uplifting and sad. I found it sad that this is something that we have to teach our children because of the unrealistic idealistic images that they are exposed to on a daily basis yet uplifting that they actually preferred each natural photo. I am so proud of my class for being so mature and reflective and learning that their self-worth is not determined by their appearance or gender stereotypes in the media.
Some of their responses after the lesson:
“I used to think that maybe one day I could look like that… now I know that it is fake and I like who I am.”
“No matter what you look like or if you have spots, wrinkles or birthmarks, you are still beautiful inside and that’s what counts.”
“I’ve learned that I don’t need to change my look or Photoshop it. I am beautiful and it’s their problem if they can’t see the beauty in me.”
As an educator and someone who has had an eating disorder and suffered with my body image and low self-esteem over the years, I can’t stress enough the importance of teaching children to love themselves, be kind to themselves and be proud of who they are. I only hope that they continue to believe that beauty comes from within and that they grow to become strong, independent and self-aware people.
Please share this so that we can continue to emphasise the importance of looking after the mental health, confidence and wellbeing of our innocent youth.