Thursday, June 14, 2007

Diane Whiting (Health Class - Body Image Project)

My Experience Using “Second Life”
Diane Whiting: Health Teacher

As an eighth grade health educator, I believe that one of the most important things that I can teach is self-acceptance, self-esteem, and the development of a healthy body image. I want my students to examine the factors that influence body image and how they can create a more positive regard for themselves. The following are excerpts from conversations that happened in one of my classes. Discussions were led by students without direct instruction from a teacher.
Discussion #1
Did you want to change your image?
Girl 1: I’d rather stay with my own image because I feel that I am beautiful in my own way. The media is stupid for the way they show young women and the way they look.
Girl 2: Yeah. That’s right!
Girl 1: They should show real women, not skinny all the time.
Boy 1: The people don’t even look like that anyway. It’s all makeup and editing.
Boy 2: Yeah. Men don’t have to look like captain America.
Boy 3: Yeah. Very stupid. They change the appearances and other stuff to make women look deathly skinny.
Girl 2: I know. It’s so stupid.
Girl 1: Fat isn’t good, but people have to face the facts that we’re not all beauty models.

Discussion #2
Did anyone want to stay with their regular appearance?
Girl 1: : I made myself thinner and taller
Girl 2: Me too.
Girl 1: and changed my hair
Boy 1: Yeah I still look kinda the same
Girl 3: I changed my eyes
Boy 2: I made myself taller and muscular
Boy 3: I didn’t keep my regular appearance, because by media definition, I’m pretty gross looking
Boy 4: Me too
Girl 1: I wanted to change because its funner to be what everybody thinks is beautiful
Boy 1: No, I think that beauty is not a truly expessionist thing
Boy 3: It depends on what everyone thinks is beautiful and what you think is beautiful
Girl 1: Explain
Boy 2: Beauty is just not shape and looks
Girl 3: OK. Where do you think we get all of our ideas of beauty from?
Girl 1: But nobody is totally comfortable with how they look
Boy 3: From the media/advertisements
Boy1: If you make an avatar like yourself, it says a lot about your character
Girl 3: Yeah
Girl 2: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Girl 1: But you keep hearing about famous people with eating disorders and stuff but somehow it doesn’t discourage girls from under eating.
Boy 1: That’s because they still admire those people
Boy 2: The truth is they’re not healthy at all (actresses/models)
Boy 3: Maybe it is about stress
Girl 1: Yes. They think that it’s not a big deal but it really is.
Boy 1: Yeah I mean it’s not healthy to "diet" but people always do it
Boy2: The thing that I hate is that when girls are underweight and they say that they need to lose weight
Girl 1: The media should help us feel more confidant but they really just do the opposite.

Although I go to great lengths to foster an environment that encourages honest and thoughtful discussions in my classes, I must point out that this discussion did not occur in my regular classroom. It happened in my Second Life classroom. Students were asked to create avatars that resembled their actual appearances as much as possible. After they created their realistic avatars, they were put into groups to discuss how comfortable they were with these images in Second Life. The next day, they changed their avatars to resemble what they thought was the media’s representation of perfect beauty. Again, they went into groups to discuss how they felt about that process. This allowed students to discuss how the media portrays beauty, how realistic those images are, and how they personally felt in these different images.
Since this was my first experience with Second Life, The first day of the project was less organized than a normal lesson would be for me. Once I became comfortable using the messaging systems and note cards, I was amazed to see the learning that was happening in the discussion groups. At first it was difficult to predict what the students would get out of this process. I expected them to enjoy the process of creating avatars, but I had no idea how profound their discussions would become when they formed groups in the “pods”. When we cover body image in a traditional class, it’s easy for most students to discuss how they fell about the media, but it’s more difficult for students to discuss how these messages affect them personally. As a health teacher, it was incredibly rewarding to see my students examine these issues frankly and support one another in the goal of self-acceptance. I do not believe this level of communication could have happened in a traditional classroom. Second Life is a tool that has allowed my students to explore feelings and concerns that I know would not have happened otherwise. Not only did they discuss their concerns, but they were able to provide each other support. Second Life is a forum that easily lends itself to teaching body image and self acceptance. I look forward to using this tool in the future and explore new ideas to apply it to other units as well.

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