Body image truths take shape

Bethlehem Year 9 students strike a pose from their body-image-inspired dance sequences. Photo: Kitty Beale

Bethlehem College Ashfield Year 9 students gave the concept of body image physical expression through a first-time joint Dance and PDHPE (Personal Development, Health, and Physical Education) project – and gained confidence in their own.

In six groups, students brainstormed to draw key words from quotes related to appearance then improvised movements to create 30-second dance sequences which reflected their understanding of body image.

Teacher Kellie Kells said the project was part of Sydney Catholic Schools’ Authentic Learning through Performing Arts (ALPA) initiative. Family Educator at St Vincent’s Catholic Primary Ashfield, Sinead Kent, documented the project on film to become a resource for teachers.

“Exploring a theoretical concept like body image and then asking the girls to demonstrate their interpretation through kinesthetic movement was difficult at first,” Mrs Kells said.

“The pieces that were created were so original and unique. It was important to create that safe environment in the classroom where it didn’t matter if students had 10 years of dance experience or had never danced a day in their life. There was no wrong answer. Once that was established everyone started to really enjoy it and grow in confidence.”

‘Warning: Images in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty’.

At the beginning of the project, students used Adobe Photoshop to create what they thought was an ideal body. Most altered their photos to appear either extremely skinny or hourglass with ample curves. Blue eyes were favoured as was long hair and lightly tanned skin.

Noirin Finnegan, 14, said her peers focused on the words ‘beauty’, ‘socially constructed’ and ‘mirror’ during the dance task.

“Through dancing I’ve been able to understand in-depth how body image has been distorted by the media and celebrities, and been able to feel a bit more of what people who don’t have the best body image feel,” she said.

“By reading a book about it or writing an essay you wouldn’t really connect on an emotional or physical level. By the end we kind of realised that it doesn’t really matter what you look like, you’re all perfect in your own way.”

Sarah Hannigan, 14, also brought previous dance experience to the quote ‘Be yourself because an original is worth more than a copy’. “I’m a visual learner so now that we’ve done this I have a better understanding of what body image is,” she said. “I found out more about myself too, because in this you can see if you are being original or not.”

Alexandra Elbakht, 14, said the finished dances were simple but powerful.

“It shows you that you don’t need to be a stereotypical ‘little’ dancer – or perfect – to go and move around a bit,” she said. “You eventually get to the point where you don’t care anymore what other people think. You’re just comfortable.”

FACTS on FIGURES

26.5% of young people aged 15-19 are very concerned about body image, next to stress (38.4%) and school or study problems (33.6%).*

One in 11 anorexia sufferers after puberty is male.**

Of 3,000 young people who responded to the Australian Government’s second national survey of child and adolescent mental health and wellbeing:

  • 3% of 11-17 year olds reported binge eating or purging.
  • 2% of males and 4% of females aged 11-15 reported low weight, binge eating, or purging.
  • 9% of females aged 16-17 reported the same. Not all of the respondents have a diagnosed eating disorder.***

Sources:

*Mission Australia’s 2015 Youth Survey Report

**Garvan Institute of Medical Research

***The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents, 2015, Department of Health, Canberra

 

 

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