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that boys who are shorter than their peers are extremely sensitive and manifest either disruptive behaviour or are very withdrawn."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 305.

    Paul, boys or girls shouldn't have body issues. As a school counsellor I've seen the effects on girls for a very long time (suicide, anorexia,self harm etc) It's heartbreaking. Yet the headline didn't even mention girls but they were part of the survey as well. That's what I was unhappy about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    'Boys suffer poor body image, say teachers'

    The corporate sector will be delighted. The lower a persons self esteem, the easier they are to sell stuff to.

    I sometimes wonder if that is actually the driving force behind the cults of celebrity & the body beautiful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    Sorry, those stating to be a kid now is "just the same as when I was younger" have no real idea of how much the world has changed. Sure the pressures & emotions will be similar, they always will be, but I doubt your calculator (if you even had one) had the ability to bully you... nor were media or advertising so rife, or garish.. and no, blocking children from technology is not the answer either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    After decades of being belittled by the "girls are better" brigade it is a wonder that any young men have any self estemm left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    So many mums 'pamper' their little daughters with nail-varnish & ear-piercing. Why are boys dressed up in miniature combat fatigues, toting guns & knives? Why give in when kids grizzle for junk food? Why waste money on tickets to Disneyland?

    For god's sake, buy books & art materials. Read stories, play in clear air, laugh. Walk outdoors among wildlife, trees, flowers. Give 'em fresh food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    .......I don't see what the problem is in wanting to look nice.
    If either of my boys were ugly or fat (thankfully they're not because I chose a pretty wife and cook all our food ...).... I would gladly pay for surgery to make them look normal.......

    Oh my Lord.....are you a 'troll'....that's horrible !!!

    Your poor 'pretty wife' & 'normal boys' ..... sheesh !!!

  • Comment number 299.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    If either of my boys were ugly or fat (thankfully they're not because I chose a pretty wife and cook all our food fresh and organic and we all take regular exercise) I would gladly pay for surgery to make them look normal.

    Obviously the above is just a joke? Or is it just sick?

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    If children were successful and felt valued in relation to their school studies that would go a long way towards offsetting what is in essence an age old bullying problem. So sort out our confused education system (i.e start by getting rid of Gove).

    Next respond. I was short when younger and was told by my Dad to say "yes but they don't make diamonds like bricks" when I was called "shorty".

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    "we've known it for years about girls And no one has batted an eyelid"

    We've known its about for years about girls because we did bat an eyelid..about girls. The issue regarding girls has been in the media for years, but now somone has written an article about the problems of boys, you find it unfair - ..they are only boys - how dare they take attention away from the vital problems of girls?

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    58. Bella North
    most kids worry because HEALTH PROFESSIONALS are promoting this image of perfection... Puppy fat is "unacceptable"... stop the bullying now.

    Best comment on this HYS. Whilst the media don't help, the public policy / school focus on so-called 'obesity' (which is nowhere near as prevalent as the 'crusaders' insist) is doing huge damage and hampering efforts to boost acceptance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    It's the parents fault, these day's parents are always jogging, going down the Gym. Every one seem's mad on exercise and watch what they eat. People look stupid carrying a bottle of water around every where they go. We never carried water in our hand in the Desert. They read to many magazines . What they read they believe. They are like Sheep. Scared at what people think of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    275 "I need help, but who cares?"

    I care! Hope you don`t mind my offering a word of advice, it`s this-
    when ever you focus on what is wrong, you zap yourself,
    Instead, focus on what is right.
    You might have nice hair, a nice smile, a kindly disposition, even a nice jumper!
    Think on what is nice, not what is wrong. It takes daily practice,
    Sounds simplistic, but it works. You start to feel ok

  • Comment number 292.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Yes that is right, we've known it for years about girls And no one has batted an eyelid. Now because a small percentage of boys have started getting affected its shock horror! I find the fact we've allowed the sexualisation of young girls to continue year after year much more shocking.

  • Comment number 290.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    277.Stuart Wilson
    Or is it a case that if a man's doing it, it's a ripoff; if it's a woman doing it it's a victory in the battle for sex equality.
    I know that Dorner is female, but she is hugely outnumbered in her industry. Do you really think the banking industry hasn't ripped us off? I would object to that no matter who did it. The gender issue was raised by Shoogly Peg see 167.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    so what if a child has/had to 'endure' torment for being too fat/Obese or too thin/skinny...
    fact is every child who was subject to torment and torture in childhood by fellow classmates - went on to be success in LIFE.
    having to learn to over come such retard attitudes, made each child stronger! A child who was forced to learn the skills went on to be a success.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Does anybody worry about anything these except self image. Self. Self. Self. New values required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I qualified as a youth worker in 1997 and wrote about this problem as part of my qualification - this is not a new problem. I now work as a counsellor and deal with men with eating disorders and body image problems that lead to exercise addiction. The help the NHS offers is designed for females so thousands of teenagers are slipping through the net.


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