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that boys who are shorter than their peers are extremely sensitive and manifest either disruptive behaviour or are very withdrawn."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 425.

    The creation of newer and younger markets by American dream-vendors, who churn out all those dreary smart-aleck-always-wins-in-the-end TV series, and whose star happens to be played by a young person who is most attractive, not short of money, living in a beautiful house etc., etc. are contributors to this problem. Children are only markets to be sold to these days.

  • Comment number 424.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.


    Hang on, I claimed poeple say boys are blah blah blah, you asked me who said that, so I told you and provided evidence and now you're saying that's not what you were talking about. In other words, you were having a discussion with me, but you weren't talking about what I was, you were talking about something else? Now I'm wondering what's the point in discussing anything with you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    I recommend avoiding mirrors - does wonders for the self-esteem of both sexes at all ages!

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    I was focussing on how boys learn . Not exam versus coursework. If learning has been successful then a good exam result follows. My view is (based on experience and guidance from inspectors and advisers) practical hands on learning followed by exam is generally preferable to most boys. I agree with Johandm who said girls focus better on coursework tasks. They have a greater work ethic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Boys, girls, adults are bombarded with advertising/image drivel designed only to sell unnecessary product and the only impact assessment of this practice is profit. The impact on the lives and self esteem of both kids and adults is not considered. Unconstrained capitalism lacking social values simply spreads misery and makes the world an ugly place for low self-esteem losers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    405 Miniliz

    Natasha Devon is paid for her work.

    Thisnowhappens does not necessarily equal "progress"

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.


    Just to be on the safe side and in the name of overkill,

    Here's 5 different sources for proof of my claims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    A lot of the comments show how little boys and men are valued in this country. Men's mental health is the worst is ever has been, with four times as many suicides than women. Yet there is no real funding for it. These problems are growing, and the are invisible. The sooner we address the causes, and help boys talk about their self-esteem, the more effective the solution will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    It isn't much discussed or accepted but young males can be susceptible to anorexia nervous & self harming, just as their female counterparts can (albeit in lesser numbers). I suspect young women may be more likely to seek help, however...
    Long before the age of the World Wide Web, poor body image in young people had the capacity to make some youngsters unhappy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Coursework assessment was introduced to combat the perceived view that boys were better at examinations; in some subjects it's a 60 / 40 (coursework dominant) split. In my experience, girls are more able to focus and get on with the task and act upon advice given; boys (often) seem to need another two years (post GCSE) to realise what it was they should have been doing to get a decent grade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.


    The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) said that, in fact they claimed that an all exam option should be opened for boys and an all coursework option opened for girls. That's why I keep questioning it, one the one hand I've got bodies like the AQA saying one thing, then you claiming to the the arbiter of truth saying another, what else can I do but question then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    do any of you even lift?

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Who exactly says that boys are better at exams and girls better at coursework? You need to look at the gcse and SAT result gender breakdown golgotha. Various ofsted studies have found boys are more successful with a hands on approach. That is what schools are told by the experts. That is what we have been doing. So why you have to keep questioning it I really don't know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.


    So it's a myth what they say about boys being better and exams where as girls are better at coursework, and how the introduction of coursework, sometimes accounting for over 50% of the final mark gives girls an advantage over boys?

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    schools should teach acceptance and appreciation for the variety in talent and looks. teachers can inadvertently pass on the wrong messages so should go out of their way to emphasise the beauty of variety in people. they need to make sure they dont choose favourites because of looks etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    404. Golgotha I disagree. Historically, there were low expectations of girls. The system wasn't changed for girls. In fact girls thrived on the old formal approach. The last 20 years has seen the introduction of a more practical and skills based curriculum which favours boys. In my 20 year experience all themes, topics, reading books etc are selected to appeal to boys not girls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    83. blagshaw
    11 HOURS AGO
    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 fresh and organic

    Well both my son and daughter are good looking personally to me the Maths Teachers where correct 2 minuses do make a +.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    Not really a problem, I'm sure that the precious little darlings will get over it- eventually. Meanwhile, why don't they concentrate on their homework. That will keep them away from the mirror for a while.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    The under 13s rugby team that I help coach has kids from manyf schools and we play teams which have a majority of kids from independant schools. These boys have much more confidence and are the first to shake the oppositions coaches hands without any air of superiority. This becomes natural to them when their parents and teaches give them confidence rather than TC role models taking it away


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