Humans come in all shapes and sizes and in the interest of keeping our self-esteem high we sometimes accept or embrace our physical state even if it is decidedly unhealthy. How as educators do we address this conflict of accepting who you are physically vs. being mindful of the negative health effects that acceptance can have? I wonder what are some effective ways to marry the concepts of accepting or embracing who you are while also having the desire to change?
I teach middle school health education. I often think about my own middle school experiences and the influencers I had as a young girl in the late 90’s. “Girl Power” was in full force and Brittany Spears seductively toted a snake around her neck. Pop culture gave us pre-teens the misguided idea that sex appeal was a critical part of female empowerment. The message that we can do anything, as long as our jeans ride along our pubic bone, and we have an unlimited supply of lingerie slip dresses.
The message for today’s young girls is much different. Most famously Billie Eilish and Lizzo leading the battle on body acceptance. Unapologetically loving who you are. As a mother and one who has waged the war of personal self-acceptance from my preteen years on, I applaud the messages that young girls are receiving today.
As a health educator, my thoughts are conflicted. Teaching nutrition and fitness I sometimes find a conflict of accepting who you are physically vs. being mindful of the negative health effects that acceptance can have. That body acceptance is so important, but at what cost do we ignore the underlying health impacts?
Students are often very focused on their appearance and might be motivated to work out to improve that alone – how can we help them to be more well rounded and consider their underlying health? I wrestle with this a lot. Reprogramming the notion of working out for appearance. Change the motivation.
Are there gentle or delicate methods to broach the subject of improving health without harming self-esteem or self-image? What I have found to be successful for myself and my classroom is to change the language. We talk a lot about our relationship with food. I have switched the focus to connecting and listening to our bodies. What is your body telling you after a good workout? What is your body telling you when you eat nutritious foods? The emphasis on “How does it make you feel?” During my first few years of teaching I would categorize food into “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods. I have changed the language to “foods that do a lot for our body, and foods that do a little for our bodies.”
Reframing the questions we ask our students can be the solution to the challenge of maintaining their self-esteem while building healthy habits moving forward.
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