Let's Get Critical!

Beyond Images, a free, online self-esteem and body image media literacy curriculum, developed by NEDIC, for Grades 4-8.

As an elementary teacher, media literacy and critical literacy skills take a central role in many of the lessons, activities and experiences that I share with my students.  As a woman who recovered her own life from anorexia nervosa several years ago; as a PhD Candidate (ABD) in Education who is studying the education system and eating disorders; and as a mum to a beautiful little girl who is, at two years of age, just starting to take in all of the media around her, teaching not just media literacy and critical literacy, but combining the two into critical media literacy, takes on a role of, dare I type it, critical importance.          

It sounds trite but it is all too true that the world in which our children and students inhabit is a very different one from even a few short years ago.  The explosion of different social media outlets (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), web 2.0 tools (such as blogs) and software (such as Photoshop) combine to create a culture that is not only so fast-paced that it is difficult to keep up with, but also a culture in which it can be hard to distinguish between what is real and what is not..  Furthermore, the idea of “real” and “not real” is often not even the issue; beauty ideals, whether based on “real” images or “not real” images, are. With the influx of media in every shape and form, ideas of how to achieve these normative beauty ideals are more readily available than ever to our students and children, with one caveat: absolutely no warning labels as to what can happen if you engage in these behaviours with the hope of reaching (or even coming close to) these normative ideals.

Fortunately, with the creation of all of these tools, coupled with the development of critical media literacy skills plus a dash of creativity, it is possible to begin to deconstruct, challenge and even change what beauty means to us, to those around us, and the rest of the world. Start by discussing images and videos with your students and kids.  Discuss beauty in all of its forms (in nature; within the human world; as created by humans) and why we might privilege certain people, places or things as more beautiful than others.  Then give your kids back their power! Watch Dove’s “Selfie” video and use this as a springboard for helping your students and children challenge current beauty-and-body-normative ideals. Use social media itself to help them shape their own notions of beauty, most importantly their notions of what makes them beautiful on the inside and outside.  Because not only are we all beautiful, but we all have a right to know this deep within us.  Watching my students engage in this process as they created their own notions of beauty and began to realize what makes their own selves beautiful was inspiring to say the least.  I urge you to create opportunities for your kids to grow into and embrace their own unique beauty, too.



Carrie Cox is a woman who recovered her life from anorexia nervosa more than six years ago.  She is also an elementary teacher, PhD Candidate (ABD) in Education, workshop facilitator, and, most importantly, mum to a beautiful inside-and-out girl, Zoe.  Carrie acts as an advocate for eating disorder awareness and body awareness education in local, provincial and national media, and has been privileged to share her story at a wide variety of events for different organizations, including NEDIC.  If you are interested in learning more about Carrie’s work, please contact her at carrie.cox@mail.utoronto.ca, or attend her workshop on body activism in the classroom at the NEDIC conference this coming April 2015.