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Body Image


Body image and self-esteem begin to develop early in life and are heavily influenced by caregivers, peers and the social environment children grow up in. Individuals who have a healthy body image and self-esteem are more resilient to the daily stresses and challenges that they may face in life.

Negative body image and self-esteem can have serious effects on health. Left unrecognized, negative thought patterns and resulting behaviours can lead to conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety and eating disorders.

Body image refers to the way we feel about our physical bodies. 

  • Positive (healthy) body image:  a person feels comfortable, confident and happy with their body.
  • Negative (unhealthy) body image:  a person feels ashamed, embarrassed, self-conscious and unhappy with their body.

Self-esteem is closely tied to body image. It refers to how worthy and confident a person feels. It also refers to the level of self-respect a person has for himself or herself.

  • Positive (healthy) self-esteem:  a person feels confident in their abilities, has respect for themselves and is proud of who they are.
  • Negative (unhealthy) self-esteem:  a person feels worthless, is self-critical and has low confidence in their abilities.

Lesson Plans

  • Beyond Images – Self-esteem and body image curriculum for Grades 4 through 8. Each Grade includes five lessons, and each lesson contains objectives, lesson plans, student worksheets, and evaluation rubrics. Curriculum addresses critical media literacy, digital citizenship, body-based bullying, and more. Updated 2016. 
  • Body Image Lesson Plans – Suggested for Kindergarten to Grade 8. These curriculum supports, lesson plans, background information, activities, videos, and facilitator manuals were developed by Peel Public Health to assist educators promoting and supporting healthy body image with their students.
  • Ophea:  H&PE Curriculum Resources – For Grades 1 to 8. These curriculum resources are available to subscribing School Boards across Ontario through a password protected website. The resources are organized into two main sections that are consistent with the 2015 H&PE Curriculum:  Movement Competence & Active Living, and Healthy Living. Talk to your school’s Health and Physical Education Lead or Curriculum Consultant to find out if your School Board subscribes.

Curriculum Supports

  • The Student Body:  Promoting Health at Sick Kids – This teacher training module is designed to help alert teachers (and parents) to the factors that can trigger unhealthy dieting among children and ways to prevent it. These six learning modules (Media and Peer Pressure, Healthy Eating, Active Living, Teasing, Adult Role Models, School Climate) utilize animated vignettes, videos and background information for teachers (and parents) so they can experience some of the positive and negative factors affecting body image and unhealthy eating habits.
  • Teach Nutrition – For Kindergarten to Grade 8. This website was created by registered dietitians for teachers. A variety of programs and resources including videos, activities, and games are available online to support Ontario educators teaching healthy eating components of the curriculum. The Grade 6 program has students explore their personal world and the influences that affect their food and activity choices. This program includes a focus on body image and self-esteem and features a four-episode DVD with students sharing their personal insights. Most downloadable PDFs are also available in French. Free teacher workshops are also available.
  • Eat Well and Be Active Educational Toolkit – Designed by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to help teach about healthy eating and physical activity and to encourage students to take action to maintain and improve their health. The toolkit contains an Eat Well and Be Active Every Day poster, activity plans and images.
  • National Eating Disorder Information Centre Provides information and resources about eating disorders and weight preoccupation. Promotes healthy lifestyles as an alternative to dieting and the destructive cultural emphasis on appearance. Some French resources.
  • Dove  Links to resources for educators and leaders and videos illustrating photo-shopping and media techniques.
  • Obesity Network – To increase public awareness about weight bias, the Rudd Centre has released a video demonstrating the nature and extent of weight bias at home and in school.

SMDHU Programs

The health unit also offers a variety of programs and services for elementary schools (PDF), covering a wide range of health-related topics.

Additional Resources

Visit the healthy eating section of the SMDHU website school pages for more information about how educators can provide education to encourage healthy decision-making to support healthy eating, and work with their school to create a supportive healthy eating environment for students.

Visit the healthy eating section of the health unit’s website for more information on healthy eating across the lifespan, food security, food skills, healthy weights, and more.

Are you concerned about a student and/or would like additional information related to counselling or community supports? Find out where to get help.

Staff at the health unit are currently reviewing recommended lesson plans and curriculum supports for educators to align with Ontario’s 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum. Please use your discretion in determining which lesson plans and curriculum supports to use in your classroom. Updated and new resources will be posted online as available. 


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