An innovative programme that enables us to learn how to love our bodies and faces and to improve our physical self-concept has been designed by researchers.
The Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, which has come up with this programme dubbed 'Mirate bien' (Take a good look at yourself), involves student's participation.
However the participants are not asked to do any kind of physical activity.
It is the cognitive side that has to be trained here enabling the restructuring of our perceptions so that we have a more realistic awareness about our image.
Inge Axpe, is one of the researchers who have worked on the design of this programme.
She has also submitted a thesis in which she provides details about this and about the pilot programme carried out using it at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU).
First of all, 21 judges, which included eleven lay judges and ten experts undertook to evaluate and validate the programme, which was later applied to 813 students.
495 of them formed the active part of this experience and the rest were the control population.
In these cases students in Primary or Secondary Education tend to be worked with, but this initiative is different in this respect as it was the students at the University School of Teacher Training in Leioa (Bizkaia, Basque Country) who were studied.
After all, it is they who will be the teachers to the children and teenagers of tomorrow.
Axpe believes that they need to be given practical classes before anything else to help them improve their own physical self-concept.
"That way they get to know all the variables relating to this matter and become aware of how important the variables are for young people, and how, as future teachers, they will, in turn, be able to help the youngsters work on them," she said.
Axpe mentions eating disorders as an example to elucidate what the cognitive perspective consists of.
For example, a young person suffering with bulimia may be attractive and do sport, yet have a very low physical self-concept.
The programme which tend to be applied in schools encourage physical activity and a balanced diet, which is of no use whatsoever in this case: it is no use at all telling this young person that he or she has bulimia and that it is not healthy.
It is an inner problem, and to get to the root of it, the inadequacy of the approach has to be focused on, not the eating disorder itself.
But how does one approach this?
"It is no easy task, because these thoughts are deeply ingrained, but there are activities that allow them to be presented: one needs to get over to the young people the idea that we tend to interpret information in a very specific way. For example, we are affected by the things we are told externally, but the impact depends on our interpretation. Young people need to know that we have these tendencies, and that if we do not try to change them, we won't be able to change anything else." She said.
The programme is divided into various stages: physical activities, healthy habits, external influences, etc.
The working procedure is similar in each of them.
First of all, it is about trying to awaken the interest of the students through the reading of some texts, and questions are put to them to motivate them to reflect.
After that, for example in the physical activity phase, they need to say whether they do sports; in other words, to verify their situation within this stage.
After that, it displays a list of unsuitable behaviours that seek to build the awareness of the young person through simple examples.
"That is the case of someone who thinks that his or her nose is too big, and when generalizing this in an exaggerated way, says he or she is ugly. We offer them alternatives: we tell the young person that we should try and change that, and that he or she may not be happy with his or her nose, but he or she does have some lovely eyes. In short, this programme aims to bring about a cognitive restructuring and facilitate modifications in one's self-concept," she said.
According to this pilot experience, the students participating in the programme exhibits the signs of improvement in their physical self-concept.
Statistically, these early results are not enough to assert this, but there are differences that are worthy of note.
As Axpe claims, the programme has shown its potential as a tool for building awareness about the implications of an inadequate physical self-concept, the variants that affect it and the possibility of changing it.
She insists that, including tools of this kind is an essential component in the training of these university students, who are studying to become teachers.
"It would need adaptations for all the ages. That is in fact our aim: to shape it, adapt the materials, and evaluate them as they are implemented," she added.
This study has been published in the journal Revista de Psicodid ctica.