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that boys who are shorter than their peers are extremely sensitive and manifest either disruptive behaviour or are very withdrawn."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 245.

    Media has a lot to answer for. It is to be hoped that when they watch football, their parents tell them that spitting is not cool but a disgusting habit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Maybe the over sexualisation of music videos needs addressing for a start. I am getting fed up of videos that dont promote the song but promote the bra size and cleavage of the tart prancing round in less clothing than a 6" doll.

    Girls especially are vulnerable to this kind of trash pushed down our throats on a daily basis..

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Eric Pickles never let this stand in the way of carving out a career doing nothing in particular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    240. Phil
    'Most parents simply give their children money for their school lunches. Most children spend this elsewhere on crisps, energy drinks, sweets and biscuits.'

    How do you know this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Don't panic the buff obese porker known a sir Eric of pickles will be able to help all those young boys

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Most parents simply give their children money for their school lunches. Most children spend this elsewhere on crisps, energy drinks, sweets and biscuits. As a results of their poor diets, many children I teach are overweight. If parents provided a balanced packed lunch for their child each day instead of turning a blind eye and giving money then the problem would be solved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Teaching children about how the media are using body image purely to sell products would be a good start. I'm sure it could be explained in a way that even very young kids would understand and they could have fun using airbrushing software on a PC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Natasha Devon, 'body image campaigner' - says it all really. No-one can be an individual any more and what Natasha says on this BBC news video is nothing new. The only difference is that now there is far too much ridiculous influence from all angles on kids, particularly from the music & fashion industry. Did anyone have a role as a 'body image campaigner' 30 yrs ago? What do you think?

  • Comment number 237.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    They definitely do. Boys and girls. My little brother is obsessed with his appearance. It's part of normal growing up to a degree, but the absolute craze surrounding attractiveness and the perception of being 'cool' is so destructive. It fosters selfishness when what we need more of in the world is selflessness. When will they teach kids to love themselves and one other for simply, who they are?

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    It's always been like this-what's new here? If anything the media is much more inclusive than it used to be. Check Glee for example. While I'm here how come that bin man who urinated in someones' garden is headlined as having defecated? Plenty of more intersting topics for a HYS today imo..

  • Comment number 234.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    There is a fine line to be trodden here as we dont want to give our children a complex but we also dont want them to be unheathily over or under weight for example.If we shy away from mentioning weight we may be storing up a problem that will be harder and harder to deal with; if we push to hard the same may be true anyway. Need to teach them as early as possible about both health and self esteem

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Men and boys are always reported negatively n the media, I am surprised men have lasted so log considering we seem to be inferior in every way compared to women.

    Don't drag us into your female world of body dismorphia!

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    It's just 21st Century society I guess, exposed to too much media and other junk, and then worrying about it. As a kid in the '60s & 70s, maybe life was more straightforward back then? I don't remember being under any sort of pressure or influenced by anything, certainly with no real 'role models'. Then again, I had no idea I was missing any of this either - did I care? No chance ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    It is a pity that the teaching profession cannot concentrate on the job that they are supposed to be doing, e.g. producing children who can speak and write good English for a start!

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Why don't you leave off trying to convince humanity that every pimple and wrinkle in our skins; and fat or thin, is a problem. I was informed by a 'devout' Christian teacher in front of my class that my left-handedness was of the devil, and that I would have her stick smashed over my fingers if I dared pick-up a slate-pencil with my left hand. I'm now an atheist, by, knowledge, and intelligence.

  • Comment number 228.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    224 paulmerhaba
    Thanks,sorry for doubting you and being "slow on the up take"so to speak!
    In general agreed,but I have been pleasantly surprised by some of today's youth recently in a very positive manner personally!

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Not as fit as I could be, but am healthy. I'd never win a beauty contest & have my share of insecurities, but I'm happy. Why? Because instead of focussing on selfish/defensive desires like apperance, I'm constantly creative, positive, caring & help others where I can. The best people I know have passion & great personalities, their looks don't matter. Kids should learn their uniqueness is not bad.


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