How you can support students body confidence

Young people’s concerns about body image can have an enormous impact on their lives. It’s clear from the increasing numbers of young people who are conducting online searches or reaching out for help that body confidence can be particularly tough to acquire. Now, more than ever, we need to focus on prevention efforts to help students develop a healthy body image.

Students sit outside smiling

Steps to support a healthy body image in young people

Education about body image, disordered eating and eating disorders is an important part of a school’s wellbeing program. As an educator with a significant role in the lives of your students, you are in a unique position to drive prevention efforts. While we know that helping young people to have a healthy relationship with their body can be challenging, there are some simple things you can focus on that can make a difference.

1. Be a positive role model.

Demonstrate what a positive body image looks and sounds like. Choose to speak kindly about your own and other people’s bodies; try not to engage in appearance-related talk; and do things that make you feel good in your body. This can have a really positive impact not only on your students, but also on others around you.

2. Implement and integrate body-image focused programs that are evidence-based.

Research shows that programs which target risk and protective factors for negative body image can help prevent eating disorders from developing. When selecting resources, look for ones that develop media literacy skills, challenge pressures to conform to appearance ideals, reduce body comparisons and appearance-related talk, build resilience, and develop personal identity and self-esteem.

3. Foster a positive body image and an inclusive environment for all.

Extend your efforts beyond what is covered in the curriculum to include broader factors that help create an environment in which students and staff celebrate diversity and show respect for different body shapes and sizes. You might want to look at your policy around appearance-related bullying, the opportunities presented for non-competitive physical activity, and whether the school uniform is inclusive of all shapes and sizes.

4. Avoid scare tactics.

Take a ‘do no harm’ approach and avoid discussions around harmful behaviours, weight/shape/size or specific eating styles. Instead, focus on reducing stigma, understanding influences, accessing available support and encouraging help-seeking.

5. Have students lead discussions and activities.

Create a safe and positive environment, and allow young people to take ownership of the issue for themselves and their peers.

Body Kind Schools

One practical step you can take is to get on board with Body Kind Schools, Australia’s largest body-positive movement for young people. This free initiative for anyone working with young people is a fantastic way to channel empowering evidence-informed, body-positive messaging to everyone in your school.

Body Kind Schools officially runs during the week 6–12 September, but you can get involved at any time in September, or beyond – whatever works for you.

Registered schools have access to resources for primary- and secondary-age children, including educator or peer-led workshop and classroom activities, digital clips, posters, a live webinar to support educators, and guidelines for running the Body Kind Fundraiser: Be Body Kind Today. The beauty of Body Kind Schools is that it is totally flexible. You choose what to do, and when! Parents can also check out the partner program too, Body Kind Families.

What can I do now?

  • Become an informed educator. Get familiar with the National Eating Disorders Collaboration’s evidence-based information for implementing body esteem education, and seek information, resources and training from experts such as Butterfly Foundation.

  • Examine your own relationship and values around bodies, appearance and health, and seek help if needed. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable within themselves, and it is never too late to get support. The Butterfly National Helpline, 1800 33 4673, is available seven days a week, 8 am – midnight AEST:

  • Sign-up for Body Kind Schools. It takes just a couple of minutes. Download all the fantastic resources and then start celebrating body confidence!