Body Image

Body Image

Society places pressure on all of us to look and act in certain culturally acceptable ways. Body image is the way someone thinks, feels and behaves in relation to their body. Some children are worried about their ability to look “good enough” and be accepted by others. This can result in some trying food restriction and exercise techniques to change their bodies. Usually, girls want to be thinner and boys more muscular, and in dance the focus can be on perceived “body flaws” such as having bow legs.

Some research has shown that participating in dance is associated with having more concerns about weight in girls as young as five years old. On the other hand, research has also shown that body image and self-esteem can be improved through dance by increasing people’s understanding and mental representation of their body through movement as well as feeling connected to others.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

Children and young people with developmental challenges may be at an enhanced risk of developing a negative body image.

  • For example, children who have a physical or movement challenges may notice they can’t keep up with or achieve the same level of movement as other children which may negatively impact on their self-esteem and body image.
  • Some children may have rigid thinking patterns and develop strict rules on what they can eat, or rigid ideas of how they should appear. For example, children with autism spectrum disorder may be susceptible to developing restrictive eating patterns because of both their sensory sensitives to certain foods but also their rigid thinking styles.
  • Some children may also be more developmentally susceptible to developing obesity due to genetic conditions or impulse control challenges related to their disability.

Dance teachers and educators can play a powerful role in providing positive messages around body image for dance students.

Attitude matters

Always be understanding, caring and think of things from the child’s perspective. Don’t give children negative feedback on their physique or weight.

Communicate thoughtfully

Be aware of how you speak to all children and don’t make them feel inadequate.

Spending time away from the mirror

Mirrors can be a great teaching tool, but they can also create self-surveillance and negative self-talk for dancers if they are constantly looking at themselves in a mirror. Consider how much you need to use mirrors in your dance class and consider covering them up sometimes or facing the class away from them. Instead students can focus on how they feel doing the movements rather than how they look in a mirror.

Use time away from the mirror at the end of each class to practice the steps/routine they’ve just learnt. This may also help students prepare for the end of year performance where there are no mirrors.

Strive for fun and feeling rather than perfection

Rather than achieving technical perfection focus on how things feel and whether students are enjoying the dance activities. Focus on inner sensations rather than having a visually driven view.

Consider clothing

Tight-fitting dance clothing can have a negative effect on self-esteem. Instead, consider allowing children to wear clothing of their own choosing that they are comfortable with. Provide a wide range of options are available (e.g., long sleeves/short sleeves, cross-overs, looser fitting warm up gear). It may also be helpful to refrain from asking children to remove warm up clothes.

Get help if needed

If you see signs of an eating disorder in a child speak with the student or their parents and help them find a qualified health professional.

Reject the idea of an “ideal body for dance”

Accept students no matter what size or shape.