How children challenge body image issues

Project reduces negative body image issues among primary schoolchildren and increases their self-esteem.


Promoting a Positive Body Image


No financial cost thanks to free support from Solihull Council's personal, social and health education (PSHE) adviser, who spent around six hours producing lesson plan templates. The school spent two to three hours analysing survey data, two hours each on teachers' and parents' workshops, and up to five hours on lesson planning


Girls as young as five worry about their size and appearance, one in four have tried to lose weight by seven and a third of eight- to 12-year-old boys are dieting to lose weight, according to Reflections on Body Image, the May 2012 report of the all-party parliamentary group on body image.

The report urged teachers to tackle these issues, but Ruth Bayley, PSHE co-ordinator at Oak Cottage Primary in Solihull, was already on the case, going on to enlist help from Solihull Council.


The council's PSHE team led training workshops for teachers at the school, exploring how body image issues can affect children. Separate sessions were held for parents.

Bayley worked alongside the council's PSHE adviser to develop a body image programme consisting of between three and six hours of sessions for each year group from year 1 upwards, spread over several PSHE lessons. Workshops were held for teachers to help them tailor the sessions for their classes.

The programme, which was introduced the following year, features content suitable for different age groups. For example, pupils in years 1 and 2 embark on an imaginary journey with a robot from another planet, identifying individual characteristics in themselves and others and celebrating originality while older pupils discuss topics including positive role models, how images of celebrities are changed using techniques like airbrushing and how definitions of beauty varies across cultures. Teachers also deal sensitively with the subjects of anorexia and obesity.

Bayley hopes the programme will make children more resilient and discerning about body images in the media. "We're providing them with prior knowledge, so by the time they reach their teens, they can deal with these issues more easily," she says. "We hope by the time year 1 pupils get to year 6, they'll be really confident about who they are. If children aren't happy and confident within themselves, how can we expect them to succeed?"


Sixty-seven per cent of 30 year 6 pupils and 77 per cent of 30 year 4 pupils said last year they were happy with their weight, compared with 50 per cent of year 6s and 65 per cent of year 4s before the programme.

"The indignation and disbelief that anyone would want to change their body, starve themselves or be airbrushed in a photo was a joy to see," says deputy head Debbie Goodman.

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