When you’re in Grade 7, the way you look and the way your peers perceive you can be a big part of your identity. Students in middle school and junior high are constantly bombarded with messages and images from peers and media, all of which can be huge influences and make it difficult for a youth to stay true to themselves and to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth.
These important issues are the focus of the UNDER MY SKIN program, which addresses body image for students in Central Alberta in the form of an engaging play.
“I remember when I was this age and something like this was never really brought to my attention when I was at that point in my life wondering who I am. Do I like who I am? Or maybe I shouldn’t because those people are saying all these things. It’s a constant battle between loving who you are as a person and acceptance. This show really, really hits that nail on the head,” Nicole Leal, the stage manager of the UNDER MY SKIN – Body Image Play, which was seen by more than 1,100 Grade 7 students from around Central Alberta over the course of the past week.
The hour-long play uses a series of short, funny sketches performed by a quartet of actors to address a number of different topics which could affect a person’s body image, from bullying to social media to pressures from parents and peers.
Leal said educating kids about having positive self-esteem and a healthy lifestyle is especially important in the age of social media, where it is easier than ever for negative influences to spread.
“It really has a different way of affecting more about how we think about ourselves, especially if other people have a bigger influence in our lives to make us start not liking who we are. So I think it’s really important the messages that we have in the show helps teach the kids that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be who we are and you don’t have to conform to what everyone else is thinking you should conform to.”
After the conclusion of the play, students were given an opportunity to engage with the actors in groups in order to discuss the issues raised in the production and to provide advice on how students can deal with the emotions and challenges connected to body image.
“It makes them feel that they’re cared about. It’s not just sitting in a chair and watching something, they actually now get to connect to that person who was trying to share the message,” said Leal, who also performed in the play a couple of years ago.
“I think there’s a great value in this for kids to come and see this and hear the message.”
The annual production is sponsored by the Red Deer Primary Care Network with financial support from the Foundation for Red Deer Public Schools.