Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going back to Acton for the third workshop in the series. What a success! Speakers Dr Amy Harrison and Denise Sanderson-Estcourt joined us to have some conversations around our bodies and body image, a topic that came through in our focus group sessions with the young people.
The speakers’ backgrounds lent themselves perfectly to such discussion: Amy, a clinical psychologist who specialises in eating disorders; and Denise, the creator of body confidence cards, a card deck that helps us reflect on our relationships with our bodies. Being a mother to a teenager herself, she knew perfectly well how to manage an excited group of teens!
More than 20 young people showed up to participate that day, in addition to of course the invaluable presence of Yara, Ayaka, & Sonny. After the young people filled out the preliminary surveys, we each introduced ourselves to the group, then dove right into this important topic with Denise.
Seated in a circle, we were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and handed a blank post-it note. Our instructions were to think of a word we associate with our bodies starting with the letter we were given. Denise made sure to make it a judgement-free zone to encourage everyone to contribute what felt true to them.
After coming up with a word, she asked us all to place them in alphabetical order on a sheet of plastic. Example entries were “Natural,” “Tiring,” and “Vulnerable.”
Once we were all finished, Denise led a reflection around the language we use when speaking about our bodies. The young people realised our rhetoric on the topic is largely pejorative: we seem to mostly criticise our bodies, despite everything they do for us each day. The young people mentioned always comparing their bodies to others they see around them or on social media, and always finding something to criticise. They shared that they hardly ever saw their bodies in a positive light. At this point, Denise shared the cards she created (check them out here!) to further the conversation on what our bodies do for us. To share but a few we came up with as a group: “our bodies allow us to experience the world“, “make it possible to eat yummy food“, and “take us from place to place“. Without our bodies, we wouldn’t be able to experience everything beautiful about the world (e.g., close friendships).
I was particularly impressed with the openness and candour of the young people about their experiences around body image and the perceptions of others. They were wise to ideas that social media images aren’t accurate and were also really interested in strategies to tackle negative thoughts and thinking styles about their bodies.– Amy
After a short break, we sat down again for Amy’s portion of the workshop, which focused on how to deal with negative emotions (about one’s body or anything else). She came well prepared with resources to hand out to the young people so everyone could have a thorough look. She then led us through each in turn.
The group learned how to apply a commonly-used tool from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: putting our thoughts on trial. When faced with a thought like “I am ugly,” this skill asks you to seek the evidence behind that thought. Usually, you’ll soon be faced with a blank slate.
The young people had a lot to say about another resource Amy brought, intriguingly titled “Code Breakers.” She prompted them to think: if a friend of theirs came to them saying they feel fat, what is this friend looking for in response? The young people certainly surprised me with their thoughtful answers on this one. They quickly suggested such admissions could mean the person feels vulnerable at that moment and might be seeking reassurance. We then spoke about how many of us seek affection or reassurance at times but don’t ask for it directly because we are too scared to do so.
I personally really appreciated having these frank conversations with the young people. I especially appreciated their honesty and willingness to share difficult experiences within a group setting. As usual, they surprised me with their insightful contributions. I suppose by this point, I should no longer be surprised!
The successful evening then came to a close. Denise was kind enough to offer motivational cards from her body confidence deck for each of us to take home as a reminder of the workshop. After saying their goodbyes, Amy and Denise headed home. I stayed for a bit to collect feedback on the workshop and was thrilled to hear one of the young people declare this workshop to be their favourite yet– what an honour!
Looking through the feedback booklets on my way back home, I came across one young person’s reflection on what they learned during the workshop. They succinctly wrote:
If that isn’t a measure of success of a body image workshop, I don’t know what is.