Avatars and body image

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.

English

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.

Digital media such as the internet and video games have become increasingly important in the lives of children and youth. Even when young people are consuming other media, such as TV, music and movies, they are likely to be doing it through the internet. As well, nearly all the media they consume, from TV shows to toys, have Web pages, virtual worlds, video games or other digital spinoffs associated with them.

Music is a significant medium in a young person’s life, particularly during the teenage years. While other media may occupy a greater number of hours, it is most often from music that teenagers define their identities and draw cues about how to dress and to behave.

Advertising, particularly for fashion and cosmetics, has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves and how we think we should look. They also have a large influence on body image and dissatisfaction: 50% of ads found in teen magazines use “sexualized beauty” to sell products, creating a mindset from a young age that beauty is defined by looking and acting a certain way.

Despite the popularity of the internet, movies and TV still dominate young people’s media use (though they are increasingly watching both online). Given this widespread appeal, these media may have an indirect effect by influencing how groups or cultures view body image.

Traditionally, most of the concerns about media and body image have revolved around girls, but more and more, researchers and health professionals are turning their attention to boys, as well. A growing body of research indicates that although boys are less likely to talk about their insecurities, they too experience anxiety about their bodies.

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