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Harmful Physical Education Curriculum on Body Types

Body positivity, overall health, confidence, and love towards one’s own body, has become a much more prevalent idea in society today. Specifically around younger people. In the fall, students taking PE at City had a unit that focused on bodies and the three main body types. The goal was to educate students about their body type and how they can stay healthy. While the overall message of the unit plan seemed harmless, the way it was carried out, posed to be much more detrimental to students overall views on their bodies and made it seem like in order for your body to be “healthy” it had to fit into the slim/skinnier, unrealistic body type. 

PE teachers began the lesson by showing various videos from young girls, describing eating disorders, and their negative views towards their bodies. As student Annie (2022) says, “This was probably intended to make people feel less alone, but for me, it felt like exposure to negative thinking that was unnecessary, there are other ways to affirm our insecurities.” Along with this, students were taught about the three body types (ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph), a potentially educational topic, but ended up making plus-sized students feel “uncomfortable” and “targeted” (anonymous student). As shown in this picture below, the “three body types” were nowhere near realistic, and were all portrayed as relatively thin bodies, when in reality there is a large spectrum of healthy bodies, that all look different. This lack of representation made a lot of students uncomfortable, and “upset with how plus-size bodies were displayed in this lesson” (anonymous student).

The final straw for many students was the end of the lesson. Students were asked to find a picture of two people that had the same body types as them, and a body that they would “want to look like” and insert it into Nearpod. “How is that acceptable? We should not be perpetuating the idea that we need to change our look, only change the inside to function more healthily” (Annie). Another student spoke out and

said, “It’s very demeaning and uncomfortable to have to talk about your body in front of your class.” 

Many students have voiced their concerns out about this and how it has caused harmful thinking and created an uncomfortable learning space for students. In addition, Annie Bethell and Emma Price set up a meeting with Principal Harcum and Coach Contee, shortly after the lesson was taught. As Annie said, “I felt listened to, however, I still feel upset at the lack of action that was taken.” To our knowledge, the action taken from these complaints was that teachers will add “trigger warnings” prior to the lesson. While this is a step in the right direction, students will still be graded on the content, meaning that they will have to actively participate in these potentially harmful activities, in order to achieve a high grade on the assignments. 

Educators at City have acknowledged that this could be damaging to students, but many students still ask for more action to be taken, with some reform to the curriculum, in order to make all students comfortable and heard at City. 

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