Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

Body Image in Drama Class

Students are hyper-aware of their looks and how they perceive their bodies. On top of this, they are also concerned about how others perceive their looks and bodies. With many classes occurring online this past year students may feel even more sensitive about their body image, as they can see themselves on their screens. Students may scrutinize their facial expressions and movements, worry that other students might be screenshotting them in an unflattering moment, or intentionally hold back in class for fear of looking foolish for being “too much” or “not enough.”

As teachers, we want to encourage our students to have confidence in themselves and be proud of their bodies and what they can do. However, it’s a touchy topic, and it needs to be approached in a sensitive, thoughtful way. Our goal is to provide an environment where our students can feel supported and empowered. Try the following exercises with your students:

Show & Share : Actively search for and show examples of performers of all shapes, sizes, and body types to your students (for example, Keala Settle’s performance of “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, Alex Newell performing “Mama Will Provide” from Once on this Island, or Evan Ruggiero tap-dancing). How do these performers/performances make your students feel? Does their physical appearance or body type affect their performance?

Acting Challenge : Have students mime or create a tableau of their interpretations of the following words:

  • Confident
  • Powerful
  • Strong
  • Capable
  • Dynamic

If you wish, have students brainstorm a list of people (friends, family, actors, musicians, etc.) who they think embody one or more of those words. What makes them think that? Does the person’s physical appearance have anything to do with it? Why or why not?

Discussion/Reflection : Have your students respond to the following questions related to body image and drama (either as a discussion or a written reflection):

  • Do you think certain performers get typecast (playing the same types of roles over and over) because of their physical appearance? Can you think of any examples? How can this cycle be broken? Can you name an actor who has changed how they are perceived?
  • How can we honour and celebrate all body types, shapes, and looks in drama class? Onstage? Backstage?
  • How could a costumer provide a positive experience for all performers, regardless of differing body types?

Play Study : Study, read, and perform plays focused on body image, such as Body Body, Emotional Baggage, or Hoodie (all from Theatrefolk!) with your students.  

Mini Challenge : For one week, if students think a negative thought about their physical selves, they must give themselves two compliments. The compliments can be about any aspect of themselves (they don’t have to be physical). Students will write those compliments down on a piece of paper or in a Word document (only the compliments, not the negative thoughts). On the Friday of that week, have them reflect on the following questions: 

  • How did you feel after giving yourself two compliments each time? Was it easy or challenging to do? 
  • Re-read the compliments you gave yourself. How does re-reading them today make you feel? 
  • How can this challenge help make you a better performer?

Products referenced in this post: Emotional Baggage, Body Body, and Hoodie
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