Boys suffer poor body image, say teachers

boy weight-lifting Teachers fear boys are getting sucked into anxiety about their appearance

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Boys increasingly have low self-esteem about their body image, teachers warn.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers claims the promotion of ideal body images is reducing both boys' and girls' confidence in their own bodies.

Last year, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image recommended all children took part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons.

The union will discuss the issue of body image among pupils at its annual conference in Liverpool next week.

In a survey of 693 members across the UK, the union found 78% thought girls suffered low self-esteem and 51% thought boys had low confidence in their body image.

In addition, 59% of staff said that worries about body image made female pupils anxious and 30% said it caused anxiety in male pupils.

Some 55% said that girls were "ultra-sensitive" to comments about their appearance and 27% said boys took comments to heart.


Pressure to achieve the perfect body meant girls were likely to go on a diet, according to 54% of staff and boys were prone to start excessive exercise regimes, said 30% of those surveyed.

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Despite knowing about airbrushing, the girls still feel the need to aspire to unrealistic notions of beauty”

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Asked where the pressure came from, 94% of those surveyed said they believed the media, including television, magazines, music videos, adverts and social media was the biggest influence on female pupils and also on male pupils (68%).

Peers of the same sex were also highlighted as a key cause of pressure on female pupils to look good by 83% of respondents and on male pupils by 54%.

A teacher at a secondary academy in Wandsworth, London, said: "I find that boys who are shorter than their peers are extremely sensitive and manifest either disruptive behaviour or are very withdrawn."

One early years teacher in England said: "I work with four to five-year-olds and some say things like, 'I can't eat cheese, it will make me fat!'"

A teacher at a secondary school in Northern Ireland said: "In my year 11 GCSE English class, the girls all openly admitted to feeling pressure about body image and many of the boys confessed to it too, although they said that usually they wouldn't admit to it affecting them.

Natasha Devon, body image campaigner: "They don't feel... they can discuss this"

A head of department at a secondary school in Exeter said: "Digital and social media are a nightmare with 'anonymous' sites that slate students in the most appalling terms on their appearance, personality and anything judge-able."

"Despite knowing about airbrushing, the girls still feel the need to aspire to unrealistic notions of beauty."

'Tremendous pressure'

Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Mary Bousted said: "Young people are under tremendous pressure to have or maintain often unrealistic body images portrayed in the media.

"ATL members report that this not only impacts on female pupils but increasingly leads to low self-esteem, lack of confidence and anxiety in male pupils too.

"With academic and other social pressures, young people already have enough to deal with."

Last November, Central YMCA Qualifications announced plans for a UK qualification in body image.

The award - body image and the relationship to well-being - will cover topics such as body image in the media, self-esteem, diet and exercise and aims to help young people aged 11 to 14 build a more positive body image.

It is hoped the qualification - currently with the exams regulator, Ofqual, for approval - will be rolled out in secondary schools in the UK from next year, possibly as part of PSHE (personal, social and health education) or free study periods.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Its that period in their life when kids start to realize that maybe they won't be a premiership footballer..or a movie star... and that maybe their parents were lying when they said... "you can be anything you want to be..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Wow! They've only just sussed this? Those of us with at least half a brain have realised that EVERYBODY suffers from a poor body image, as well as a poor everything else image. Entire works of literature and all manner of art are kind of half based with this in mind. Most of the television I like is about people identifying and empathising with the struggles that face characters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    @116...Are you saying that all women should be stuck at home being 'role models' for children. This is not my purpose in life - or many other women's.

    Some well adjusted kids have parents - by this I'm taking it you mean mothers, in very demanding jobs and some very insecure kids have stay at home mums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Namby pamby Britain again. A combination of the ridiculous cult of celebrity aspiration, false promises, unrealistic expectations and worse still parents who molly coddle and pander to the child's very need. I don't believe in smacking or physical punishment but I do believe in the honourable discipline of work and play in proper measure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @ Eastbournemum-think you'll find its the have your cake and eat it equality society thats got some mums out at work. The Govt is picking up the tab for their child-rearing once theyve had the 2.5 then headed back out to the career thats been inconveniently interrupted. So bad call, look to social aspirations/reality/equality culture, not politics

  • Comment number 120.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    'Compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons'-what is this the UK or California? I suppose after 20-odd years of high exposure to US media and culture the levels of neuroticism in British society were bound to have soared. What a sad indictment of media led society-back in the 70s we'd have looked at all this and watched it like some bizarre reality or sci-fi tv programme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    83. blagshaw
    If either of my boys were ugly or fat ... I would gladly pay for surgery to make them look normal.
    What a role-model you must be!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    1 Hour ago
    "....How about discussing abysmally low standards amongst some 'pupils' of English, no understanding of the political/geographical World, non-existent maths, no history and a total lack of physics/chemistry/general science knowledge first.

    ** Spot on!. Give the kids knowledge, with that will come confidence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    A child's perspective of their image comes primarily from their parents - but oh dear! the gov' sent them all out to work and told them their kids would be better of with 'professional' child-carers, so now they are given prescriptive 'one-size fits all' advice in the form of lessons (who listens to preachers?) instead of the dedicated nurturing which builds self esteem. EPIC FAIL GOVERNMENT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    joe yellow @ 99. Not sure you are on the right lines there.

    Wanting to be noticed and applauded/rewarded for achievements is one thing- its the way the world/society moves on.

    Wanting to be noticed or rather being anxious about appearances relative to some supposed and artificial ideal is quite a different thing.

  • Comment number 114.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    One thing I have noticed which is quite remarkable but clearly obvious if
    you care to observe is the stooping forward of the upper body. head tilted
    slightly downward. not just boys but girls also. It appears to be evolutionary and most likely caused by the constant use of mobiles and computors. If you don't believe me then check it out, it is so obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    JoeYellow spot on most sensible person on here. There's some proper rubbish on here. Everyone blaming everyone for absolutely everything if it wasn't this it would be something else. Haters that's what you are. Take some responsibility. Nothing wrong with wanting to look good.

  • Comment number 111.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Kids are extremely sensitive about their appearance, especially after puberty. A teacher once told me that I had a really big nose: it was an offhand remark, and with hindsight more of a comment on my curiosity than my physical appearance, but I took it extremely personally and lost a lot of confidence. It only gradually came back when girls started to like me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Telling young people that they look ok and not to worry about appearance is also a sure fire way to a sedentary lifestyle and the onset of bad choices. Nobody wants extreme diets/health regimes but the fact is people aren't 'beautiful as they are'. They are generally overweight, unfit and a drain on our health system. Young people need to be educated and using their idols can be a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Teen girls everywhere feel asthough they have to live up to this perfect image of what is "attractive". This image is mixture of different medias; including music videos and in womens magazines, but the image is always the SAME.

    The media needs to be changed.
    Teenagers should be educated in that it's their induviduality which makes them the most beautiful person they could be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Sorry, but I find this a load of twaddle! Get on with living, get a sport, get a life and start looking outwards rather than in the mirror!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Wait until you see the aftermath of steroids....


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