I was teaching English Language to my GCSE students. One article I asked them to prepare for was one about a magazine article aimed at teenagers with the title ‘Healthy or Skinny: Which is Best?’. I spoke to the whole class about this issue, but this is how the conversation went with one in particular:
Boy 1: Miss, but only girls would look at this article
Me: Well, you might say that the majority of teenagers who will be drawn to this article are girls. But this article is general; there will be boys who read this too.
Boy 1: Yeah but only girls would worry about this stuff.
Me: You can see that it says ‘teenagers’. That includes boys. Why do you think boys don’t have these issues on weight?
Me: Ok, let me ask another male student. What do you think? Would boys read this article?
Boy 2: Yeah I think they would. Because they might be interested.
Me: OK. Why?
Girl: Because they can also be suffering from things like this.
Boy 1: But boys don’t usually think about what they eat. Only those who want to be models.
Me: Not everyone can be like you; you’re of a small weight and size. Have you realised you assumed the rest of boykind thinks like you? You’re telling us that you don’t think about your food or weight. But, are you everyone?
Boy 1: [Laugh]…No
Me: There we go. Ok class, are we aware that there are eating disorders? Are we aware that boys also suffer? That they can also have anorexia, bulimia? They they too can have body issues?
Boy 1: Yeah but we won’t Miss because we’re Muslim. We don’t think about this stuff
Me: But being Muslim doesn’t stop us from being affected by our surroundings and our own culture. Yes women and men are meant to cover and focus on the soul, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have insecurities about our body.
Boy 1: Yeah but still, guys who want to be models or be famous maybe.
Me: Not necessarily only for those who want to model. There are boys out there who are healthy, but want to bulk up. There are girls who think they’re too skinny and want to put on weight. These concerns might not make sense to you because you don’t have them about yourself. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists in others.
Eventually Boy 1 got it. It took out 15 mins of the lesson but it was a much needed digression. I could see how and why he thought what he did. And it was easy to make him see that such things exists; body image issues are prevalent in boys and girls of all shapes and sizes. It’s a conversation I’m glad I had with the boys and I’m not surprised that it was a 15 year old male that said ‘only girls would look at this article’.
Its hard to get teenagers to believe there is more than just one ideal body image, and that their own shape should be celebrated. In recent years we have more campaigns to help promote positive body image, but I still feel in the Asian and Muslim community it is somewhat lacking. An attitude of ‘if we don’t know how to deal with it, we leave it’ remains today in our communities so it’s a concern I have about the youth today and for the children that will come after.
Now, with regards to the iftar. I came home and crashed. It was really hot and I hadn’t slept properly that night. I then woke up just before 8pm to find dad had prepared it all, leaving me only to heat the parathas, cut the Pakistani mangoes and set the table 🙂