Body image

By Sam Hornby

When I was training to be a teacher I taught year 5 for four weeks. I always liked to make sure the children I taught felt they could approach me to speak to me about anything that was worrying them. One day a young girl, who was 10, said to me: “Miss, I don’t want to go for lunch.” I asked why and her reply shocked me… “I don’t want to get fat, Miss”. I couldn’t believe it! At such a young age, she was concerned about being fat! At this age, she hadn’t even finished growing.

I believe the media needs to be held accountable for the negative body image it portrays in magazines to young people. You can’t go past a shelf of magazines without seeing headlines saying something about celebrities’ cellulite, how to lose weight in two weeks, bikini bodies…the list is endless.

The reason I decided to write about body image was firstly because I kept seeing posts on Facebook about celebrities and their shocking bikini bodies and secondly, because my husband said to my little boy the other day “You can’t eat too many sweeties cos you will get fat”. While I agree that too many sweeties are not good for him, I disagree with the use of the word ” fat”. It brings back memories of being at secondary school when a classmate turned to the girl next to her and said “Oh my god, look at how far Sam’s stomach sticks out, she’s so fat!” In that one comment my whole relationship with food changed, my opinion of my body changed and I don’t want this to be the case for my children. At the end of the day, we all want our children to be healthy, and to me, healthy doesn’t just mean a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.

Nowadays, more children are using social media and therefore there are more ways to manipulate the thoughts of our young people about body image. Now I have a daughter, I worry about her thoughts about her own body when she is older. I want her to become a confident young woman. I don’t want her to feel she has to conform to the media’s idea of what the perfect body is. If we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place!

Who’s to say what the perfect body should look like? Unfortunately, the media has a way of manipulating the mind – especially those of women and, more commonly, young girls, to feel they have to look a certain way and if they don’t they need to go on a diet or change themselves so that they do conform. I thought it was fantastic when Sophie Dahl became a model she was a healthy size 16, a role model for a normal sized woman. However, as she became more popular, she bowed to the pressures associated with modelling and dropped to a size 8. It always confused me how she was referred to as a “plus size model”! If my daughter grows up to aspire to become a size zero, I will be devastated!

When I was teaching, my teaching assistant’s daughter in Year 6, brought a letter home saying that before she went to secondary school, they were going to be measured and weighed. A few weeks later she got a letter that stated her daughter was slightly obese! To look at the girl you wouldn’t think she had an ounce of fat on her! She was sporty, ate healthily and in that one letter this young lady believed that she was fat! Surely we need to help children understand what is meant to be healthy rather than throw around the word “obese”?

I also believe that celebrities have a lot to answer for. At the end of the day, our children look up to these people. It isn’t just an issue for girls but also boys, who are aspiring to be the muscly hunks that we see on underwear adverts. But are these images we see in magazines the real person? No! These images have been altered through clever computer programs to make them more appealing to the eye. If these people we see in magazines really existed, they would look like they had necks of giraffes, with eyes too wide apart, their legs too thin to even stand on.

We can’t always shield our children from these kinds of images or comments made by others, however we can promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage physical activity and make them aware if somebody doesn’t like the way they look they’re not worth knowing. If you’re a nice person and you’re happy that’s all that matters. You should never change to please someone else. If you want to change, it should be for yourself.

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