Sara skips meals because she’s afraid to get fat. Thomas takes supplements so that he can become more muscular, like he sees in movies. There is also Jade, who gets bullied at school because she is overweight. Far from being isolated incidents, these are examples of the excess importance attributed to weight and physical appearance which are becoming more and more disconcerting. Action is urgently needed in schools, communities and families to prevent issues related to an excessive preoccupation with weight. But how can we get young people to question the single model of beauty?




A society which encourages the cult of thinness


In Quebec, it is estimated that 23% of young people are overweight. If importance is given to this phenomenon, which seems to be getting worse all the time, it is then imperative to pay attention to how messages regarding obesity prevention are transmitted. All too often, these messages accentuate prejudice toward overweight individuals and emphasize the fear of becoming heavy, which is already very much present in society. Parallel to this reality, young people are constantly bombarded with images of very thin or hyper muscular models in the media and advertising. Adolescents are made to believe that these models are normal and try to conform to them, without realizing that they do not represent reality. The result? Even though the majority of high school students are at or under a normal weight, it is estimated that 60% of them are unsatisfied with their body image.

Adolescence: a critical period for body image

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to what the phenomenon experts in public health call an “excessive preoccupation with weight”. If it is hard to have a healthy body image in current society, the challenge is even harder for adolescents – a period of life when puberty takes place and when they feel other people’s opinions of them are extremely important. By trying to attain the perfect body, young people unfortunately adopt behaviors that threaten their physical and mental health.

Excessive preoccupation with weight is a very real threat to young people’s health and wellbeing. To change things, it is imperative that parents and educational professionals mobilize in order to take action on this issue.

The Derriere le Miroir (Behind the Mirror) campaign: mobilizes youth to change social norms

The Behind the Mirror campaign encourages young people to question the model of beauty and to actively participate in changing social norms regarding the portrayal of attractiveness, the cult of thinness, as well as the prejudice toward obesity. The 2012 edition of the campaign has several components: the IMAGE/in Award, a collective artwork video, a highly interactive website, awareness tools, and free pedagogical activities for teachers and youth animators. For more information, please visit www.derrierelemiroir.ca

The Healthy Mind, Healthy Body program

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body (HMHB) is a program that promotes healthy lifestyle habits, as well as a positive body image. The program encourages the acquisition of healthy behaviors related to weight and the body, as well as nutrition and physical activity among youth, fostering self-esteem, respect for others, irrespective of body type. The program targets adolescents, their parents, and the adults in their lives. In addition to the program’s intervention kit with over 50 activities designed for high schools, the HMHB program also offers support measures for program implementation and optimal intervention methods. These include start-up training and a website reserved for program leaders. Currently, over 550 communities benefit from the HMHB program in Quebec. For more information or to order the program: www.biendanssapeau.ca

Training for professionals: Intervening on Weight and Body Image in Adolescence

This one-day training is aimed at professionals in the school, community, municipal, and health sectors who work with youth from 12 to 17. The objectives of the training are to help professionals optimize interventions focused on preventing problems related to weight and promoting healthy behaviors regarding body image, nutrition and physical activity. The training is offered to groups of 15 to 25 participants and is given upon request. The length of the conference can be adapted to participants’ availabilities and can also be given in a shorter, presentation format. For more information or to request a training session in your community, please contact: carine.thibeault@equilibre.ca


For more information on EquiLibre’s programs and services, please visit www.equilibre.ca