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'Self-esteem and technology have become an entwined issue'

Viv Lamb collecting Oakham School's Digital Schools Award in 2015

In our first Dove Self-Esteem Project blog, Viv Lamb explains how she approaches the issues of image and body confidence in her role as head of PSHE at Oakham School in Rutland.

We don’t tend to teach single sex groups, unless covering topics such as puberty, wet dreams and periods, where it can make conversations easier lower down the school. This is not a problem because body confidence is not just a female issue. We're a sporty school, with players in the upper school representing their sport in professional and national squads. Both boys and girls aspire to emulate their success, but one of the issues we have with body image is boys wanting to look ‘ripped’ when they're not old enough for their frame to be able to support that. Body confidence is an issue that we want to address with all pupils and the boys can relate to the body confidence content in the Dove Self-Esteem Project because it essentially covers body expectations and what you will actually look like.

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PSHE should be a spiral curriculum because children are at different stages of growth. We tend to revisit topics such as body image on a bi-annual basis. We’ve used Dove Self-Esteem Project resources for a long time in our own way, building lessons around it, particularly looking at photoshopping and body confidence. One way in which we supplement Dove materials is by bringing in the school sports psychologist and director of sport into sessions, as they have the kudos to give you friction with the mid-teens. They make good links to physical and mental health as well as offering constructive advice about diet, hydration, body shape and exercise.

We also like to add in local examples. For instance, ex-pupil and England Test cricketer, Stuart Broad who was always known as ‘Little Stuart Broad’ may be 6ft 7in now, but he didn’t have a growth spurt until the end of his time with us, and we have photos to show this. We ask students in our upper school to supply pictures of themselves at age 11, 13 and 17/18. We use these images with our 11-year-old pupils to show them that the seniors they look up to once looked just like them. This lesson is one of my favourite teaching moments every year, just listening to the gasps as you reveal each picture in sequence. This is also a fantastic way of personalising the Dove Self-Esteem Project material. What’s nice is that we have been doing this for so long that when I put the request out for photos, I get messages from seniors talking about the positive impact it had on their own body confidence. 

example of photos used in PSHE lessons at Oakham School: twin boys at age 11 and then again at age 17


ʻWhat was once in the PSHE/SRE realm is now moving into e-safety educationʼ

We must face the fact that self-esteem and body confidence are heavily linked to technology; what was once in the PSHE/SRE realm is moving into e-safety education. Much of the content I have written for body confidence, this academic year, has gone into e-safety lessons. Taking 'selfies' can be often about seeking approval through likes. Yet, almost every photo has used a filter of some sort and many pictures are taken before one is selected to post. What an adult may see as sexting often isn’t sexual for a young person, but is more entwined with the need for approval.

Our current area for development is to actively encourage self-censoring. Technology has encouraged immediate replies without thinking about consequences, and that is moving into the spoken, everyday arena.  Students are weaker at picking up on the body language of others and feel under pressure to say something. What is then said is often judgmental or hurtful.  Failing to think before you speak is not a new issue among young people, whilst the brain rewires, but the negative, critical element has increased. Young people need to learn to think about what they post, and what they say, and its impact on others. It is going back to ‘if you can’t say something positive, say nothing’, but now they are surprised that saying nothing is actually an option! This was brought into perspective recently when our first form were talking about their hobbies. The original aim of the exercise was to build their confidence to speak up in class, but now the teacher is also teaching them to hold in that immediate comment; reflect on its appropriateness and how it will make someone feel. The students can find it really hard. We feel this is the growing need that will underpin any work on body confidence going into the future.

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For parents

Download the free Uniquely Me parent guide to hand out to your pupils and parents.

This 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.

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.