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4 Ways to Make Your Classroom More Body Positive

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's Note: Amy Lauren Smith is a Choices Teacher-Adviser; a 6th-8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China; and the brilliant mind behind our Teachers Guide each month. Visit her web site or follow her on Twitter!


This month, our debate story was inspired by the mayor of London's decision to ban all ads that promote unrealistic body images from public transportation. His argument is that unlike TV—where parents can change the channel or shield their children—public transportation has a captive audience.

Our classrooms work the same way. Every day, we have a captive audience of students coming in for at least an hour at a time, so it’s important that we create an environment that makes them all feel safe and welcome. If our goal is to instill a life-long passion for health and wellness, then we need to make sure we do so in a way that promotes positivity for all.

Here are four ways you can make your classroom more body positive:

1. Agree upon and enforce a set of class norms.
Most successful groups follow a set of agreed upon expectations that help them function and run smoothly. My class works the same way. Rather than give my students a list of rules that they must follow, we decide as a group what kind of behaviors we expect from each other. Using a list the students have generated themselves leads to a more inclusive, safe environment with less chance for body teasing.

2. Remove any anti-obesity messages.
With one-third of children currently overweight or obese, the fight against obesity is at the core of what we do. However, if we want to help our children on their journey to a healthy weight, we need to make sure they first feel accepted as they are right now.

To help students work towards a healthy weight, put the focus on a love of real food and physical activity, rather than on the fear of getting fat. The anti-obesity approach tends to alienate students who are struggling, and can also lead to fear or disordered eating even with those who aren’t.

3. Spend time teaching media literacy.
So much of the pressure that our students feel about their appearance is pushed on them from a very young age. Teaching them to look at these messages with a critical eye is key in promoting a healthy body image. These influences don’t just come from models in magazines—TV shows, children’s toys, superheroes, and video games all influence the way girls and boys feel about how they are supposed to look. Make sure you’re having discussions about unrealistic expectations, Photoshop, and the risks that come with comparing ourselves on social media as well.

4. Get the students to advocate for positivity.
The best way to counteract negative messages is with positive ones, so make sure your students have the opportunity to spread words of encouragement throughout your community. The act of being kind to others can also help them feel better about themselves. For some inspiration, check out how this teen used Post-it notes to start a movement in her school, and have your students spread sincere compliments of their own with our Compliment Generator activity.

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