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Dying to Be Thin

Classroom Activity

To collect and analyze data about how healthy men and women are portrayed in the media and use this data to learn more about healthy lifestyles.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Body Images" student handout (HTML)
  • graph paper
  • lined paper for collecting data
  • protractors
  • calculators
Procedure Procedure
  1. Have students bring in copies of magazines from home that are suitable for the classroom.

  2. Distribute the "Body Images" student handout to students. Review the data they will be collecting and ask students whether they would like to collect any additional data.

  3. Have students collect the data from the first 25 pages and the final five pages of the magazines, including the covers. Stress that it is important to be as accurate as possible to get useful results.

  4. Once students have collected their data, tell them to make a bar graph and a pie graph for each of their data charts.

  5. Have students pool their results and then on paper or the chalkboard, make another bar graph and pie graph to represent the entire data set. Have students analyze the class data, and answer the questions on their student handouts. Are people portrayed the same in different types of magazines?

  6. To conclude the lesson, have students consider their own views of self-image. Have students self-reflect on the following questions: Do you feel any pressure to have a body like those portrayed in the media? Do you know anyone who has gone on a diet and lost a lot of weight? Do you know what kind of a diet he/she used to lose weight? Was he/she able to keep the weight off? Explain. Have you ever been on a diet to lose or gain weight? What motivated you to go on the diet? Were you successful? Where did you get information about the diet? If students want to generate a discussion, take responses from volunteers only and be sensitive to the feelings of class members.

  7. As an extension, have students consider whether the men and women portrayed in advertisements are real. Do they think the photos may have been touched up? If so, how? and why?

Activity Answer

The attractive human body, as portrayed in the media, has changed during the years. In the late 1800s products supported, and advertisements showed, what would today be called "overweight models." Times have changed drastically. Because people today are living in what has been called "the information age," the influence of the media is greater than ever. Most Americans are exposed to thousands of media messages every day in print, on television, through outdoor advertising, and over the Internet. These messages promote bodies that are thin and idealistically well proportioned. Overweight people are seldom seen even in television programming unless they are featured in comedy shows or comic characterizations.

Student analyses of the magazines will show that nearly all the women in the general circulation magazines are thin; in fact most weigh less than the lowest weight for their heights on standard height and weight charts. Few average size or large women ever appear unless they are there as part of a special article or advertisement.

Men are usually portrayed as well proportioned with broad muscular shoulders and flat stomachs. Like women, few if any overweight or overly thin men ever appear. Exceptions are articles about athletes who might need to be big to excel in their sport, like football linemen, or some wrestlers.

Articles in magazines aimed at girls and women often promote dieting and exercise to change body weight, and are rarely accepting of the body that the girl has. Similar results are found in magazines that boys read. These articles sometimes promote dieting and leave the reader with a poor self-image, feeling that their body is anything but perfect. The message is that anyone could have a perfect body with the right diet and sufficient exercise, which is not true.

Advertisements almost always portray idealized images of attractive female and male models. These people appear even when the product being advertised has nothing to do with body shape or size, instead seeking to give the reader the impression that there is somehow a link between the two. Some advertisements found in the back of magazines recruit young women (and sometimes young men) to summer camps where they can have fun while losing as much as 50 pounds. What they don't say is that almost all of the dieters will gain most or more weight back by the following summer, because they go home to the same temptations.

Most every student will know someone with a weight problem, someone who successfully completed a diet but regained the weight later, or a friend or acquaintance who struggles with anorexia or bulimia. Share that the best advice for these friends is to get professional help. With help these problems can be overcome. If not, some may lead to death.

Links and Books


Anderson, Arnold, Leigh Cohn, and Thomas Holbrook. Making Weight: Men's Conflicts with Food, Weight, Shape, and Appearance. Carlsbad, California: Gürze Books, 2000.
Explores why many men today are experiencing problems that have traditionally been considered women's issues, and offers practical solutions for men who are suffering from anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, excessive exercise, steroid abuse, sexual uncertainty based on appearance, or body dissatisfaction.

Sneddon, Pamela Shires. Body Image: A Reality Check. Springfield, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers Inc., 1999.
Describes the problems with body image, the reasons some people have a poor body image, and how self-perception is affected by society.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Dying to be Thin
Delves deeper into the complex factors that lead to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, with features including interviews, articles, and activities. Examines the therapies that can help in the relief of these disorders and offers links to additional resources.

Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders
Offers a wealth of information on eating and exercise disorders among men and women, including definitions, statistics, warning signs, medical and psychological complications, and recovery information.

Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention
Includes information about Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a healthy body image curriculum for grades 4-6, and links to additional resources. Sponsored by the nation's largest nonprofit organization devoted to the awareness and prevention of eating disorders.


The "Body Images" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5-8

Science Standard A:
Science as Inquiry

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Personal health
  • Regular exercise is important to the maintenance and improvement of health. The benefits of physical fitness include maintaining healthy weight, having energy and strength for routine activities, good muscle tone, bone strength, strong heart/lung systems, and improved mental health.

Grades 9-12

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Personal and community health

  • Personal choice concerning fitness and health involves multiple factors. Personal goals, peer and social pressures, ethnic and religious beliefs, and understanding of biological consequences can all influence decisions about health practices.

Teacher's Guide
Dying to Be Thin

Video is not required for this activity