The girls will explore the concept of the ‘perfect’ female body as presented to them by society and challenge that idea. they will identify where ‘the image myth’ comes from and how to defy it.
Pressure at the party
Who is the perfect Gloss guest?
- Ask the girls to form small groups.
- Explain to each group that they are event organizers for a brand new high-fashion magazine called Gloss. Their boss has asked them to organize a glitzy launch party and to come up with the ‘perfect-looking’ guest list. She wants all her guests to fit your society’s idea of the ‘perfect’ look for a girl.
- Your boss wants all of Gloss magazine’s party guests to fit our society’s idea of the so-called ‘perfect’ look for a girl.
- So that you can describe the ‘perfect looking’ guest to your boss, come up with the longest list of their appearance features you can (e.g. things about her hair, body, height and face). Give each group a selection of magazines to browse through to help them describe the “perfect” look.
Create the list of appearances for ‘the perfect-looking girl’
- While your small groups are creating their lists, set up a large piece of paper where everyone can see it and write at the top of the page: The “’perfect-looking’ girl?”
- Bring the whole group together and invite participants to share the appearance features they came up with for the ‘perfect’ female guest. As they share, write all of the features up underneath the title on the page in as much detail as possible.
Top tip – This activity is more fun and effective for body confidence if you encourage girls to make the list as long as they can. A really long list shows just how narrow and ridiculous the Image Myth really is! It also helps girls to clearly understand that it’s impossible for anyone to look like the Image Myth.
Define the Image Myth
- When you have finished creating a long list, read out every detail of every appearance feature on the list.
- Explain to the girls that, in reality, there is no such thing as the “perfect” looking girl. Instead, the looks this list describes is the Image Myth. Cross out the ‘perfect looking Girl?’ and write the ‘the Image Myth’ instead.
- Ask participants to tell you what a myth is. The definition is: an idea that is believed by lots of people but is actually false. The Image Myth is what society tells us the ‘perfect-looking girl’ looks like. But it’s a myth, because it’s impossible for anyone to look like this in reality. Nobody has all of these features naturally.
- If a participant says that it is possible for someone to look like the Image Myth, for example a celebrity or supermodel, remind them that even celebrities get airbrushed or have cosmetic surgery because they don’t match the Image Myth entirely and you’ll be talking about this more later in the session.
Top tip – To make this exercise really fun, read out the list of appearance features theatrically to emphasise how narrow, impossible and ridiculous the Image Myth really is.
Where does the image myth come from?
As a whole group, have a speed brain storming session. One leader reads out each question below in turn and encourages participants to shout out answers and ideas.
When you hear a winning answer (listed below), ring a bell, blow a whistle or make a funny noise.
Q: Imagine the Gloss party was 200 years ago, would the ‘perfect-looking’ guest have looked
the same and why or why not?”
A: No! Throughout history different looks have been considered beautiful. For example, in Renaissance times in Europe larger hips and stomachs were considered beautiful. In the 1800s corsets were popular with women to create really narrow waists and large bottoms. You could also refer back to some of the facts in the World Beauty Facts game.
Q: Would the ‘perfect-looking’ guest have looked the same if your Gloss party was in X country? (Pick a country that is very different to the UK)
A: No! For example, some women in Ethiopia stretch their lips with big plates as this is considered very beautiful. In North America having tanned skin is considered attractive, whereas in some Asian countries fairer skin is considered more attractive for women. Again, the World Beauty Facts game proves this point.
Q: Where do you think the Image Myth comes from?
A: The media; fashion industry; diet/weight-loss industry; make-up companies and so on.
Q: Where do you learn, hear and see the Image Myth?
A: Friends; family; media (television shows; films; magazines; internet; advertising); diet industry and so on.
Q: How do you think image myth messages make people your age feel about their appearance?
A: Under pressure to look a certain way, feeling like their bodies are not good enough, worrying and unhappy about the way the look.
Q: What do the media tell us will happen if we can make ourselves look like the Image Myth?
A: We’ll be happy, loved, successful, rich, famous etc. If we conform to this image
Q: Do you really think all these things will happen if you look like this? Another way to think about
this is do celebrities, who often come closest to the Image Myth, have perfect lives?
A: No! It’s unlikely that all of these things happen, especially as the Image Myth is impossible for anybody to achieve naturally in the first place. Even models and celebrities who come the closest to looking like the Image Myth don’t have perfect lives. For example, they experience problems in their relationships and careers, and often experience problems with privacy.
When you feel participants have come up with the main points, move on promptly to the next question to keep the energy going.
Airbrushing spot the difference
Explain to the girls that the pictures used in magazines and other types of media like Gloss magazine, are edited with computer techniques such as airbrushing. These techniques enable magazine to alter reality to fit with the ‘perfect look’ and keep the Image Myth going.
Divide the girls into small groups and get them to use the activity handout to compare the before and after airbrushing images, and find as many differences as you can.
- Ask the girls to turn to a friend and discuss the following questions:
- How does it make you feel to know that even models and celebrities are airbrushed, because they aren’t considered beautiful enough?
- Is the image myth really ideal, or are there other ways to be beautiful and special?
- Why they think the Image Myth is impossible to achieve.
Outside inside – the cost of the image myth
Create your inside and outside costs
- Get the girls into small groups and give them a large piece of paper to draw the simple outline of a person – one outline per group. You could also pre prepare this if you are short on time.
- Ask them to brainstorm the downsides for individuals of trying to look like the Image Myth, and write them inside the person outline. For example:
- How might they feel?
- What might they miss out on, not do as well at or not enjoy as much? For example, they could have low self-esteem or lack the confidence to go swimming.
- Challenge the girls to come up with as many costs or downsides as possible. Visit each group and encourage them to fill their outline person up as much as possible.
- Now ask the girls to think about what the negative effects are for your local and global community if people try to look like the Image Myth, and write them around the outside of the person. For example:
- How does it negatively affect how people treat each other at school and young people’s confidence to take the lead to make their world a better place and speak out on issues that affect them?
- What might the world miss out on if everyone is trying to be the same instead of expressing themselves?
Quitting the Image Myth! (10 minutes)
- Ask participants to share a few of their Image Myth downsides with the whole group.
- Now ask participants to shout out their answers to these questions:
- Who benefits from the Image Myth?
- Looking at all of the downsides we’ve come up with on our Inside/Outside picture, do you think that you, personally, are benefitting from the Image Myth?
- Ask participants to imagine they’re leaving their job at Gloss magazine to show publicly that they don’t agree with the Image Myth. It’s time to tell her why you think it doesn’t make sense to follow the Image Myth.
- Give them a few minutes own to come up with what they would say to her, thinking about the downsides that they just came up with in the Inside/Outside activity.
- Ask girls who would like to act out their “I quit because I don’t agree with the Image Myth” statement to the group. Encourage them to have fun with this – they can imagine they’re storming out of the Gloss offices.