Children aged 10 and 11 will be warned, in a lesson plan backed by a senior minister, that almost all photos shown in adverts have been manipulated and that many show “a degree of perfection which is unattainable in society”.
They will be told that reading magazines lowers their self-esteem, putting their physical and mental health at risk, and asked to consider if “you need to be beautiful in order to be a good or loveable person”.
It comes after a Government-commissioned review called for action to keep sexualised material away from children, which could see explicit music videos given 18-rated labels and the covers of lads’ mags hidden in newsagents.
Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister, said: “Young people are being set an impossible standard by the images they are confronted with on a daily basis from the media and advertising and there is evidence to suggest this has a negative impact on self esteem.
“I want children to recognise from an early age that their value is worth so much more than just their physical appearance.”
The teaching pack, which can be downloaded by school staff from Friday, was developed by a not-for-profit organisation called Media Smart, which says it is “funded by the advertising business in the UK and is supported by the UK and EU governments”.
It consists of 14 PowerPoint slides showing well-known magazine adverts and posters, together with a set of notes for teachers to explain “the role of media and advertising in influencing young people’s perceptions of body image”.
The slides start with pictures of fashion models, some just in underwear, to show “aspirational characteristics” of some brands.
But the lesson also highlights the United Colors of Benetton and Dove ad campaigns, famed for using people of different races and “ordinary” women.
The pupils are then shown images that have been digitally enhanced, including one of Keira Knightley’s bust, and told how airbrushing is used to “create a flawless image” or “give a model a more aspirational body”.
One of the slides shows a natural picture of Britney Spears in a swimsuit next to an airbrushed version in which her legs are far slimmer and smoother, which the singer herself distributed “to highlight the extent to which photos are manipulated”.
The teaching plan states: “Encourage pupils to think about why celebrities might want images of themselves to be airbrushed. Will looking more attractive help their career?”
The lesson ends in a discussion of “the importance of personal attributes and human values over physical beauty”.
The writer Susie Orbach, who has led a body image campaign, said: “Enabling children, their parents and teachers to recognise how images in the media and advertising are altered and the often negative impact this has on all of our self esteem is crucial.
“Giving primary school children the tools which allow them to see the differences between the real and the fantastical is part of helping them develop a sense of self worth and confidence from an early age.”
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