Published: 29 June 2022 at 23:00
New research shows how children can benefit from body-positive productions
New research has found for the first time that theatre productions can help to promote healthier body image in young children.
Led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), the new study evaluated the responses of children aged 5-9 before and after attending productions of Cinderella: the AWESOME Truth at a theatre in London.
Previous research suggests that children begin to understand societal standards of appearance by the age of five, and body dissatisfaction begins to develop in both girls and boys from the age of six onwards.
Professor Swami, a body image expert, was consulted during the development of Cinderella: the AWESOME Truth, with the aim of producing a show that could help children develop positive body image and self-image.
A contemporary new version of the traditional story was developed via workshops with over 200 children. The show includes topics such as body shaming and its effects, managing appearance expectations and anxieties, the impact of social media on body image, and the value of friendships in promoting healthier body attitudes and improved self-esteem. Children learn that what makes them “awesome” is what they and their bodies can do, not what they look like.
The researchers recruited 54 girls and 45 boys, and their body appreciation was measured before and after watching the show, which was staged at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. The participants also answered open-ended questions about their own uniqueness and awesomeness.
Published in the journal Body Image, the research found that body appreciation scores for both boys and girls improved after watching the production. The number of responses covering what made them “unique” or “awesome” also increased post-attendance, for both boys and girls.
Importantly, these improvements were achieved while maintaining near universal enjoyment of the show and delivering key learning outcomes, as assessed through the children’s qualitative responses.
Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:
Co-author of the study Sarah Punshon, who wrote and directed Cinderella: the AWESOME Truth for One Tenth Human said:
Peter Glanville, Artistic Director of the Polka Theatre, said:
Image courtesy of Tasha Best