Boys as well as girls are obsessed with their body image and many have low self confidence in their physical appearances as a result, according to a survey of children’s attitudes spotted by teachers in their classrooms.
Children as young as four are worried about getting too fat, the report says, with one early years teacher telling researchers: “I work with four to five-year-olds and some say things like ‘I can’t eat cheese, it will make me fat’.”
While it is commonly reported that many young girls are unduly sensitive about their body image, the survey of nearly 700 teachers by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers reveals more than half (51 per cent) believe boys are also affected.
The majority (63 per cent) said there was now more pressure on young people to have a particular body image than there was 10 years ago.
One teacher at a secondary school in Northern Ireland said: “In my year 11 GCSE English class the girls all openly admitted to feeling pressure about body image and many of the boys confessed to it, too, although they said usually they wouldn’t admit to it affecting them.”
Asked to list the celebrities their pupils most aspire to look like, 57 per cent singled out RnB singer Rihanna, with Harry Styles of the pop group One Direction as the most popular male with 40 per cent support.
Others included Cheryl Cole (50 per cent), Justin Bieber (38 per cent), David Beckham (36 per cent) and Jessie J (34 per cent).
Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “With academic and other social pressures, young people already have enough to deal with. Comparing and competing not only with their peers on looks, but with airbrushed celebrities in the media only leads to misery.”
Both ATL and the National Union of Teachers will debate the effects of body image pressures on pupils at their conferences over the next fortnight. A motion before NUT delegates says they are “deeply concerned...at the rise of what has commonly known as ‘raunch culture’ where the old sexism of the past has been rebranded by big business”.
“Playboy bunnies adorn children’s pencil cases, pole dancing is sold as an ‘empowering’ form of exercise and the ‘beauty pageants’ of old have become a staple diet of student life’,” it adds.