School program helps 5th and 6th graders develop positive body image and increase self-esteem

iStock_000012608964XSmallSelf-esteem often dips, slumps and even nosedives as children head into adolescence. One of the most important jobs educators have when working with adolescents and preadolescents is to help children increase their self-esteem. Dissatisfaction with appearance and body weight plays a very big role in low self-esteem at this age.

A recent study in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology describes a program that was effective in improving students’ weight and appearance satisfaction in this age group. The outline for the program was based on “Everybody’s Different,” a program developed by Australian researcher Jenny O’Dea. She also has authored a book called “Everybody’s Different, A positive approach to teaching about health, puberty, body image, nutrition, self-esteem and obesity prevention.”

The program builds children’s awareness of unrealistic media images, appreciation for individual differences and deepens children’s understanding of beauty. The program also uses meditation and helps children appreciate their social support network. The goals are to nurture positive body image, emphasize positive coping and communication skills and provide media literacy to ensure that preadolescents were better equipped intellectually to deal with adverse sociocultural pressure regarding body image, the authors write.

“Results indicated that, for both boys and girls, participation in the programme was associated with significantly higher levels of self-esteem and positive body image,” the researchers write. The effect on satisfaction with physical appearance was greater for boys than girls, however.

“This may be consistent with our societal norms and expectations that are often more rigid and critical for females than for males, thus making girls’ physical self-esteem more stable and less amenable to intervention,” the authors write.

5-day program

For 5 consecutive days in 80-minute sessions, 77 5th and 6th-grade students participated in activities, games, lessons, and group discussions designed to promote overall feelings of self-esteem and positive body image. Researchers evaluated the impact of the intervention on boys’ and girls’ satisfaction with appearance and weight with 3 measures administered before and after the intervention.

Below are descriptions of the program’s activities:

Day 1-Introduction to concepts of self-esteem and support systems

  • Brainstorming session on self-esteem and individual differences that focused on what makes people unique
  • Exercises designed to help each student become aware of his or her social support system.
  • Introduction to meditation and techniques for coping with stress

Day 2-Media literacy

  • Discussion about stereotypes and unrealistic images portrayed in the media
  • Discussion about the tools the media uses to make models look “perfect”
  • Group project–taking pictures of real beauty

Day 3-Real vs. artificial beauty collages

  • Using pictures from their photo sessions from the previous day as well as magazine clippings, students created collages and presented their work, explaining their ideas of real and false beauty
  • Meditation exercise

Day 4-Exploring individuality of self and peers

  • Group discussions and activities aimed at building a positive sense of self, learning to value everyone as a unique person and importance of respecting everyone’s individuality/differences

Day 5-Communication skills

  • Discussions and activities aimed at building positive relationships with self and others and improving communication skills
  • Students were given a take home exercise to do with their families
  • Meditation

Researchers used the following measures to assess the impact of the intervention:

  • Self-Description Questionnaire-I (SDQ-I, Marsh, 1992). This instrument measures the various dimensions of self-concept in preadolescents aged 9 to 12 and has been used to measure self concept in children as young as 6.
  • The Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults (BESAA; Cecil & Stanley, 1997; Mendelson, Mendelson, & white, 2001)–This instrument was used as a measure of body satisfaction. The BESAA assesses multiple constructs related to body image, such as satisfaction with one’s physical appearance and body weight.
  • The Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance Questionnaire (SATAQ; Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer, 1995) Two versions of the instrument, one for boys and one for girls, assesses internalization and awareness of the thin ideal for girls and of the muscular look for boys. SATAQ has been validated for students who are 6th-7th graders and has been shown to be reliable among children as young as 9.

“Results from the current study also demonstrate the importance of beginning early in positive body image education, before the male and female ideals become fixed in preadolescents minds,” the authors wrote.

“Beautiful From the Inside Out: A School-Based Programme Designed to Increase Self-Esteem and Positive Body Image Among Preadolescents,” by Sarah Jane Norwood et al., October 2011, Volume 26, Number 4, pp. 263-282.

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