Ellen Flower,18, is a Student Leader and Sixth Form pupil from Norwich who uses the Be Real Campaign to promote healthy body image in her local area and school, helping young people to feel confident about their bodies.
Our generation’s culture, with the help of social media, has come to be one that revolves around image. As a Sixth Form student who has spent the last 12 months working with my local YMCA and my school to promote healthy body image, I have seen how important it is for young people to have the tools to deal with the pressures of such a culture.
Image-related bullying often occurs in a school environment, and I believe that the best way to counter this is for students to develop an understanding and appreciation of the importance of body confidence and for body confidence to be nurtured by open, positive discussions in school.
I first got involved in advocating for positive body image after I was chosen to take part in Nelsonspirit’s Future Leaders Programme, which included selecting a charity project to work on.
I met Tim Sweeting, the CEO of YMCA Norfolk, who wanted some help from young people to promote the Be Real Campaign locally. I was absolutely thrilled with this prospect, because I recognised the massive potential this project had to make a real positive difference for young people.
I study at Taverham Sixth Form, and met with the Head Teacher of Taverham High School to discuss the possibility of Taverham High becoming a Be Real School. I thought it was important for my school to commit to helping students become more body positive and support them with body image-related concerns, knowing just how big of an issue it is my generation. The Head Teacher was delighted at the prospect and had lots of ideas about how the campaign could look in our school.
I started off by using the Be Real Campaign Toolkit for Schools to provide me with a structure to introduce the campaign. I printed off posters as a starting point, and then invited a member of YMCA Norfolk’s team to come to one of our school assemblies to introduce the campaign to students. But it didn’t stop there.
I also spoke at a whole staff meeting at my school, explaining in detail the kind of pressures that young people face with regards to body image. I talked about how teachers can best support students who are struggling with body confidence and stressed the importance of avoiding damaging activities, such as comparing students’ weights in science.
I then delivered a session in a Personal Development lesson, all about the Be Real Campaign and positive body image.
Talking about body image can be triggering for some people, so I received some mental health training and advice on session delivery from YMCA to make sure that I was well aware of the possible challenges that I might face.
It was really important to me that anyone taking part in my sessions left feeling positive, so I designed it to be an uplifting lesson with lots of interaction – in line with the entirely positive outlook of the campaign.
One of the activities included students writing positive messages to each other that they could then take away and re-read if ever they were struggling. Another exercise was completing worksheets designed to define themselves in a way that didn’t at all involve their appearance – in an attempt to convey that the way we look is just a tiny part of who we are as individuals.
Talking to other young people about positive body image made a huge difference. A concluding survey revealed that 100% of the students taking part in my sessions enjoyed it and all of them said they had a better understanding of the Be Real Campaign, as well as an increased understanding of where to go if they, or a friend, was suffering from body image anxiety. A large number of people (77%) also said that the session directly improved their body confidence – which for me was the most rewarding and important part!
Being involved in the Be Real Campaign and using the campaign’s tools to spread the message about body positivity has shown me that it can really help to grow an environment in which body positivity and self-confidence win out over critique and unrealistic ideas of perfectionism.
Encouraging body positivity within my peers and beyond has been a fantastic and rewarding experience, I’ve even been lucky enough to speak to the local media about the campaign to get even more people on board.
Everyone can do their bit to help create a more body confident environment, and while teachers can be well-versed in how to encourage body positivity, it’s important that young people like myself get involved in promoting the campaign in schools.
I cannot stress how important, and thoroughly rewarding, it is to empower your peers and help to instil better body confidence in other young people. Often, young people better understand the body image-related pressures faced by our generation – so having student ‘Body Confidence Ambassadors’ is a great way to get everyone talking across year groups.
With the right attitude and some support from the resources of the Be Real Campaign, we can all come together to spread body confidence. It’s rewarding and can be truly invaluable to the young people it reaches and I hope people everywhere will join the campaign to help us create a nationwide movement!Download the Body Confidence Campaign Toolkit for Schools