“I hope to lose weight this year.”
We were learning the phrase “I hope ____.”
I asked all of my students to write down their hopes for the school year. At least one student in every class, sometimes two, said they hoped they could lose weight.
Most of the students who mentioned weight were girls.
To be fair, many students also said they hoped to visit an amusement park, get better grades, and buy a new computer game.
I quickly reassured my students who mentioned weight that there was no need for them to lose weight. Not a single student who mentioned weight was anywhere close to needing to lose a few pounds.
Weight is also not seen as a taboo topic here, at least not on the same level as it would be in America. I’ve heard people openly discuss their weight with each other.
When I tried to downplay my students’ need for weight loss, they all shook their heads. They said they needed to go on a diet.
I wasn’t floored when I heard these comments, but I was still uncomfortable. Their age is not what bothers me, I’ve heard even younger children talk about their appearance in a negative way.
When I show up to school, I’m not only there to teach English. My contract doesn’t mention anything about teaching self-esteem, but it’s still a concern.
If the kids bully each other, or if they are feeling depressed, or have problems with body image, I can’t ignore it.
My middle school years weren’t all too long ago, and I know this is the age when you start feeling less and less like an innocent child and more like an awkward young adult.
I don’t think anyone can look back at their middle school years and say “I was completely comfortable in my own skin and I was self-assured and confident all the time”.
Is this the media’s fault? Is it their mother’s fault? Is this just a phase that every teenager goes through? Is it a combination of several factors? Is there nothing I can do?
Maybe I’m just over-thinking.
I think it’s human to compare yourself to other humans. If we didn’t have photoshopped magazine covers, parents who are obsessed with dieting, or hormones, we would still look at someone else and wish we could be just a little bit more like them.
Being skinny doesn’t make every problem go away. You can be the thinnest person in the room and still berate yourself for not being the smartest person in the room or the only person in the room without a significant other.
I’m not naive enough to think that I can come to this country and overhaul the entire education system, make my students fluent in English, and reach past every single obstacle in every student’s life to make their confidence issues disappear.
But just because I can’t change everything doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to change anything. I can ask them about their hopes and fears and let them know their thoughts and opinions matter to me.
I have one hope for this year. When my students come to my class, I want them to feel better about themselves.