Guest Post: Sara Ormsby6:39 AM
Sara is one of my best friends from college at BYU and I've always looked up to her so much. When she asked me if she could post about body image through the eyes of a fifth grade teacher, I thought that was a PERFECT idea. She loves those kids and sees closer than many people how these issues start out so young!
I'm sitting here in my classroom looking at all my adorable fifth-graders as they take a test. There are a million other things I could be doing right now- like grading papers- but reading your blog post this morning got my mind reeling, immediately making a connection to what you said and my fifth-grade class. Sometimes it is painfully obvious that they are only 11- they definitely act like it at times. J Mostly, though, I think they are much older than they are because that is what they desperately want to be—older.
Sometimes, I can’t help but compare myself as a fifth grader to my fifth graders now. I can distinctly remember 5th grade as the year where I started to be aware of my body and what it looked like (in my eyes) compared to my friends. I was not a skinny child, but I wasn’t overweight either. Most of my friends, though, were thin as a rail. I’m not sure why this is the year it started, except I do remember boys and girls starting to “go-out” with each other, (what did that even mean, anyway?) and noticing that my skinny friends always got notes from boys.
Then, I look at my class. I love my little group of kids. I love them even when they make me want to explode with frustration. I admire them for having to go through what they do at such a young age. Last week, my class earned an electronics party. They brought all of their gadgets (every last one of them had some type of iPod/ iPad/ PS3 etc., which is a whole different ridiculous thing entirely). I expected most of them to play games the whole time. Some did, but the majority were on Instagram, getting email addresses from each other, and those types of things. I was probably more surprised than I should have been.
I thought of those young girls and the way they feel the constant need to be putting their lives on display. I can only imagine the need they also feel to be the definition of what society deems “beautiful.” Occasionally I hear one of the girls make a comment about the way they look, and it is rarely positive.
It is heartbreaking to hear these 11 year olds rip themselves apart for their appearance. It makes me curious as to where it comes from. Does it come from something they hear their mothers saying about themselves? I remember my mom telling me I was beautiful, and then in the next sentence say something negative about her own appearance. I believe this is part of the reason I’m hard on myself too. I’d subconsciously be thinking things like this: “If it is ok for my mom to do it, then why not me? She has to say nice things about me—she’s my mom. What if she doesn’t actually think that? I look very much like my mother. I must have the same flaws.” NO, PEOPLE! Just no. Why does it become ok for us to do it just because other people do, too?
Which brings me back to my point about my fifth-graders. Are they hearing these things from society and social media? Probably. There isn’t really a way to escape it, unless you live under a rock. That is why I worry so much about my class. I hope that they have good role models at home, who teach them that it doesn’t matter what society says. I know a good number of them don’t, unfortunately. I hope that as their teacher, I can be that role model. My students feel safe in my classroom, and as a result they are very open and honest with me—something I am proud of, I have to admit. In return I am open and honest with them, as much as I can be. (There is clearly a line, though, and I don’t cross it!) It has made me reevaluate what I say about myself. I now (more often, at least) stop if I’m about to say something negative about myself. Even if it isn’t about my appearance, I always try to take a positive spin on things. (“Math may not be my best subject, but I always try my hardest to do better!”)
Aside from academics, that is probably what I want my students to take away most. I want my 11-year-olds to realize that they have more worth than they can possibly know. They are loved. They are amazing, creative, intelligent, fun, kind, and beautiful—just the way they are. What matters is that they are trying their hardest daily to be a good person. What matters is that they learn how to take care of themselves, but not to a point that is obsessive and self-degrading. Society and social media do not teach those things, no matter how much they try to say that they do. I desperately hope that my fifth-graders realize this before it is too late. I hope they know that they are good people, and that makes you beautiful inside and out.