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How to help your pupils to challenge gender stereotypes

Young people today are more exposed to appearance ideals than ever before – in part due to social media depicting the ideal attributes for both women and men which often reinforce traditional gender stereotypes.

They may be feeling under pressure to look, act or dress in a certain way according to what they think is expected of them as a boy or girl. This can also have an impact on their self-esteem and body confidence.

Here are three ways to help your pupils to challenge gender stereotypes:

Encourage them to embrace their individuality

It is important that pupils understand that diversity is something to be celebrated and that their appearance, interests and views are what make them unique. Ask them what they think about popular celebrities who do not conform to social expectations, like Rihanna who makes it clear that fans don’t dictate how she should look or act. Check out the free sessions as part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project for practical classroom activities to help boost body confidence.

Explain how appearance ideals are often unrealistic

Show pupils images in magazines and on social media that are most likely heavily edited and ask them what they think and whether they believe these are accurate representations of reality. Actress Jameela Jamil is a good example of a celebrity who has refused to be airbrushed in images and started the Instagram movement I Weigh, encouraging women not to define themselves based on their weight. See the Dove Self-Esteem workshop on appearance ideals and challenging media messages for activities to carry out in class.

Show them how society is moving away from gender roles

Traditionally, men were expected to be tall, muscular and interested in sports and cars, whereas women were expected to be thin, long-legged, well-dressed and interested in fashion and make-up. Society is now moving away from these gender roles and it’s good to talk to pupils about examples of this. The singer Pink has long been a champion for defying gender stereotypes and recently announced that she would be raising her child gender neutral. Ask pupils who their role models are and if they can think of examples of celebrities who go against gender stereotypes.

How to help boost your pupils’ self-esteem and body confidence

The Dove Self-Esteem Project offers a series of free workshops and resources with practical activities to help you boost your pupils’ self-esteem. This includes looking at how to challenge media messages, examine appearance ideals that are changing over time and how to talk to pupils about how to embrace their individuality, giving them the confidence to be unique. 

Download your free teaching resources here. 

The free Uniquely Me parent guide is packed with much more advice and some practical activities to help support you with boosting your child’s body confidence and self-esteem.

This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.

Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

Parent Zone is working with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to help boost UK pupils' body confidence through its PSHE Association-approved in-school workshops. Find out more about the full programme here.