"To lose confidence in one's body is to lose confidence in oneself."
- Simone De Beauvoir
Self-image is inextricably linked to body image, especially for young females. In her book, Reviving Ophelia - Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, Pipher (1994) describes and explains the convoluted issues that girls battle during adolescence, including the ability to conform to a media-driven ideal of beauty. In response to Pipher (1994), Shandler (1999) collected writing from girls who deal with issues identified in her book, Ophelia Speaks - Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self. The submissions are not easy to read. The first section, The Body Under Assault, gives voice to girls' extremely negative body images. Also described are the self-abusive ways girls often deal with these negative feelings, from anorexia to self-inflicted wounds to alcohol abuse. Shandler (1999) discusses some causes of negative body image, such as rape, sexual abuse, and media images. What is clear from both books is that girls are likely to internalize the various pressures of adolescence, which can lead to a decreased sense of self and a negative body image. The negative view of self is evident in the following submission by Jessica, 17, who lives in a small town in the Northeast:
Searching through catalogues
You wish you could order
The bodies not the clothes. (Shandler, 1999, p.5)
The aim of this independent inquiry is to investigate the following questions:
What is the connection between body image, self-esteem, and eating disorders, particularly with girls?
As a teacher, how can I promote healthy body image and self-esteem at the elementary level, and prevent eating disorders?
What techniques and activities can be used to promote healthy body image and self-esteem?
Abundant research supports the existence of strong links between body image, self-esteem and eating disorders. The Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Inc. organization (1999) emphatically states, "People with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss" (p.1). Pipher (1994) takes an in-depth look at struggles that girls endure, and some succumb to, over the course of adolescence. This book is highly recommended for anyone who cares about and works with young girls. While males are also prone to negative body image and low self-esteem, the research suggests that females tend to be most affected. Most of the discussion here will focus on girls and women. However, any child who appears to differ markedly from his/her peers is prone to negative body image.
Body Image, Self-Esteem, Eating Disorders, and Self-Mutilation Defined
Body Image and Body Equity
Health Canada defines body image as "the picture an individual has of his or her body, what it looks like in the mirror, and what he or she thinks it looks like to others." (Health Canada, 1994, p.29). According to Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Inc. (EDAP) (1999), body image includes "how you feel in your body not just about your body" (p.1). EDAP states that a person with "positive body image" has a true and clear perception of their body shape, celebrates and appreciates this shape, and understands that one's physical appearance says little about one's character and value as a person. As well, one accepts and feels proud of one's unique body and refuses to spend unreasonable amounts of time and energy worrying about weight, food, and calories. A person with a positive body image feels comfortable and confident in their body.
On the other hand, a person with "negative body image" feels awkward or uncomfortable in his/her body. The person has a distorted perception of body shape in which one perceives parts of the body unlike they really are. He/she is convinced that only other people are attractive and...
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