The new Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum released this year by the Ontario Ministry of Education is the first major revision to the subject area in almost 30 years.

Intended for girls in grades 7-9, Half Girl, Half Face explores many of the online image issues teenage girls may encounter when they use digital media – particularly social networks.

Here stands the spring whom you have stain’d with mud,
This goodly summer with your winter mix’d.
You kill’d her husband, and for that vile fault
Two of her brothers were condemn’d to death,
My hand cut off and made a merry jest;
Both her sweet hands, her tongue, and that more dear
Than hands or tongue, her spotless chastity,
Inhuman traitors, you constrain’d and forced.

Titus Andronicus, Act 5, Sc. II.

In this lesson, students discuss television programming aimed at children and how girls and boys are portrayed in it. Students illustrate what they dislike about portrayals of girls or boys and then create their own TV character who will counter the illustrated negative portrayals.

In this lesson students are introduced to the concept of "avatars" and share their experiences creating and playing avatars in video games and virtual worlds. They then create avatars using a program that is intentionally limited in terms of available body types and gender markers, first creating an avatar of their own gender and then of the opposite gender, and then discuss the program and relate it to representations of gender and body image in games and virtual worlds and in other media. Students then create avatars using a much more flexible version of the program and compare that experience to the more limited version. Finally, students use the more versatile program to create avatars that represent how they see themselves and how they would like others to see them online and reflect on the choices that went into creating them.

There’s significant evidence that media education can counter unrealistic media representations of men’s and women’s bodies. For example, a 2015 study found that girls as young as Grade 5 who had received media literacy education in school had higher self-esteem and body satisfaction.

Photo manipulation, once the preserve of a small number of airbrush-equipped artists, has become commonplace in the fashion, publishing and advertising industries thanks to the introduction of photo-editing software such as Photoshop and filters on social media such as Instagram. Photoshop, first introduced in 1990, has become so widely used that “photoshopping” is often used as a synonym for photo manipulation. As a result, heavily retouched photos – of men as well as women – have become almost universal, with industry figures claiming that nearly all photos in magazines are edited.

There are few media to which youth are exposed to as early as toys, which make up an important part of their media consumption throughout childhood: despite competition from electronics, the Canadian toy industry saw an increase in sales of 6.5% in the start of 2020 compared to the same time last year. As a result, the messages about body image that children get from toys that they’re buying or being given may come at a time when they are still forming ideas about gender identity.