5 Ideas for Promoting Body Confidence & Self-Esteem in your Pupils

By Dr Pooky Knightsmith


  • “I know what I want to look like, but however much I work out I never look that way. It makes me feel like a failure.” (Year 10 boy)
  • “You’re constantly judged for how you look and I don’t look how you should.” (Year 9 girl)
  • “If I was thin I’d be happy.” (Year 11 girl)
  • “I never feel good enough at anything. I’m just a bit of a failure really.” (Year 8 boy)

The good news is that, as educators, we’re in a great position to support pupils in tackling these thoughts and feelings to develop a more positive outlook. If you’re thinking of incorporating body confidence and self-esteem as part of your PSHE curriculum, here are some key pointers to bear in mind:

  1. Start with you

Our pupils always remember far more of what we do than what we say or teach. When we teach them one thing but do another we send mixed messages and the lesson is unlikely to get through. Teaching adolescents to be accepting of their changing bodies is more effective if we’re able to embrace rather than bemoan our greying hair or middle aged spread. If you’re not quite ready to declare your love of your bingo wings, at least try to keep quiet about your misgivings within the earshot of pupils!

  1. Don’t forget boys

Issues around body image and self-confidence are often considered to be ‘girl problems’ but they affect boys too. Increasingly boys are taking a keen interest in their appearance and feel that others are placing value judgements on them based on how they look. They’re less likely than girls to feel comfortable discussing these issues so it’s important that we help them develop the confidence and skills to do so.

  1. Promote open discussion

Creating an environment where pupils can openly and honestly explore their experiences is an effective way to break down stigma and prejudice. It also enables us to explore misconceptions held by pupils, staff and the wider community as well as being conducive to problem solving and help seeking. You’ll need to explore appropriate ground rules with pupils in order to keep them safe, and signpost relevant sources of support as a part of this type of discussion.

  1. Pay better compliments

Working together as a school to reduce the emphasis placed on looks and appearance can be hugely beneficial. Listen out in the staffroom for the compliments you hear, they’re almost always entirely superficial based on clothing or appearance so it’s no wonder that we all place value judgements on ourselves based on how we look. Try instead paying more meaningful compliments – and teach your pupils to do the same. Think about celebrating effort rather than attainment and character rather than appearance. Giving specific, relevant and heartfelt compliments is affirming for both the giver and receiver – why not give it a try?

  1. Think outside the box

When teaching about issues like body confidence, try to help students understand how relevant it is to their own lives and encourage a broader conversation. For example, in teaching about airbrushing as part of a lesson with a media literacy focus, we might think first about airbrushing of models in magazines, before thinking about the process we go through when sharing images on social media – selecting one from a number of pictures, perhaps enhancing it with an app… and then you could take this even further and discuss how people often ‘airbrush’ their lives before sharing them on social media, meaning that we can often feel everyone else is living the perfect life and we’re lagging behind.

Like many educators you may feel anxious teaching about topics like body confidence and self-esteem, partly due to your personal insecurities and partly due to the fact it’s a topic you’ve probably never been trained in, but I hope that the ideas here will help to improve your confidence in tackling this important topic.


There are some great resources available too – the newly updated Dove Self-Esteem Resources have recently received the PSHE Association’s quality mark, and contain everything you need to teach a lesson on body confidence. These have been written with input from experts and trialled extensively secondary schools to ensure they work with both boys and girls. You can download them for free, or you can have a free workshop delivered to your students by a trained specialist facilitator which can be a great learning opportunity for your pupils and for you! Visit www.selfesteeem.dove.co.uk/teachers to find out more.


This article was originally printed in the January 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine

Click here to freely read the full version

Dr Pooky Knightsmith @PookyH is the mental health and emotional wellbeing advisor for the PSHE Association. In this role she recently quality assured the Dove Self-Esteem Project Resources for Body Confidence. Pooky is also an expert member of the Campaign for Body Confidence Group member and author of the Eating Disorders Pocketbook for Teachers.


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