My unit, “Beauty is More Than Skin Deep: Examining the Depiction of Physical Appearance in Children’s Films” is designed for a third grade class at a New Haven Public School. The students in the class at L.W. Beecher Elementary School are predominantly African-American and range in age from 8-10. They come from lower to middle-class socioeconomic levels. Approximately half of my students are living in a single-parent home environment while the remainder live in two-parent households. Of the half living in two-parent households, the majority are living with a step-parent. The students are also diverse in academic levels, including students participating in the talented and gifted program as well as those receiving resource services for various learning difficulties.
Social Development in the elementary school has become an important trend in education today. Many school systems have initiated formal curriculums geared towards building students’ self-esteem, motivating them to learn, and promoting positive decision-making skills. With growing emphasis on Social Development in the United States today, the New Haven Board of Education dictates the incorporation of social development into the established curriculum. In 1987, a social development curriculum, Project Charlie, was introduced. It was developed to assist teachers in the implementation of this important program. The main thrust of Project Charlie is to raise students’ self-awareness. It attempts to show students that while we have many similarities we also have many differences and that it is these differences which make us special and unique. It further demonstrates that it is OK not to look and act like everyone else. It sends the message that we do not have to look a certain way to be acceptable to society. In their book
Building Self-Esteem in Children
Berne and Savary define a healthy self-esteem as “a capacity to see oneself as valuable and competent, loving and lovable, having certain unique talents and a worthwhile personality to share in relationships with others.”
In other words, it is who you are on the inside that counts rather than how you look. Since it is during the childhood years that lifetime impressions about the world and self are being formed, parents and teachers have the ability to shape events so that children can have at least some successful learning and social experiences and begin to develop a positive sense of self. In his book
Positive Self-Talk for Children: Teaching Self-Esteem Through Affirmations: A Guide for Parents. Teachers and Counselors
Bloch defines self-esteem as “our basic sense of self-worth that comes from all the thoughts, feelings, and experiences we have accumulated about ourselves in life. These impressions and evaluations add up to our feeling good about ourselves or feeling inadequate.”
With the help of Project Charlie, my goal is to aid my students in the development of a more positive self-concept. In addition to teaching the academic subjects, I have tried to educate my third graders about the importance of self-worth. I have attempted to instill in all of them the feeling that “I AM SOMEBODY!” This unit will be used throughout the school year to supplement to current curriculum.
Students in this age group are just entering a crucial stage in their development: the awkward stage prior to adolescence. Their bodies are beginning to change and physical appearance is becoming more important to many of them. At this age, students may be quite self-conscious both about their appearance and performance. During this stage, children often judge themselves and others as too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, too pale or too dark. Bloch states that “during the elementary years, children often compare themselves with peers in order to evaluate abilities. In the process, they learn about ways in which physical appearances differ. All too often these differences are put-down and ridiculed by other children and/or adults.”
At this point, they begin to develop a sense that physical traits have meaning i.e. thin is good whereas fat is lazy or pale is good while dark is bad. In their book,
Your Nine-Year-Old: Thoughtful and Mysterious,
Ames and Haber state that “the most popular tend to be the muscular, strongly built boys and girls who relate easily to others and are looked up to and admired by the less mature, less capable students . . . Their physical attractiveness makes them popular.”
As a result of these changing attitudes, many children suddenly begin to feel that they have to look a certain way in order to be accepted by their peer group and ultimately society. With increased focus on their outward appearance and that of others, students need to be constantly reminded and reassured that they are beautiful and special because of what is on the inside rather than because of their physical appearance. This unit will be aimed at doing just that.
Adults as well as children are often influenced by the media, especially in the area of television and film. A primary message conveyed by the media relative to physical appearance is that if you are young, thin, “beautiful”, and the right color, you are considered acceptable to society. On the other hand, however, if you are old, fat, “ugly”, and the wrong color, you are viewed as unacceptable. Television and film for children are no exception. They often send the message that if an individual is perceived as physically attractive, he or she will be successful. Conversely, if society perceives an individual as unattractive physically, he or she will not be successful. Children, especially girls, are programmed early on to feel they have to look like “Barbie” in order to live a happy, successful life. They are programmed to believe that if they are tall, thin, and “beautiful”, they will find Prince Charming and live happily ever after! Boys, however, are not immune to these messages regarding physical appearance. Boys are conditioned to believe that if they are fit and muscular and possess the smoldering good looks of today’s professional athletes and action heroes, they will be successful. Children need to be “reprogrammed”, if you will, to recognize and understand that it is a person’s inner beauty, an innate goodness, that brings happiness and success. Due to the influence media has on my students, I intend to use it to motivate discussion with regard to this issue of beauty and what truly makes a person “beautiful”.
My unit will use various children’s films, especially Disney Productions, as well as a variety of children’s literature to expose my students to the positive and negative depictions of physical appearance in an attempt to show them that “Beauty is More Than Skin Deep”; that true beauty comes from within. The purpose of this unit is to increase students’ awareness of how physical characteristics influence their perception of various characters. I will begin the unit by showing my students a series of photographs of children their age of various sizes/shapes, ethnic backgrounds, etc. and ask them to select the person who they feel would make a good friend. At this point, I will record students’ responses on a chart and then we will discuss their reasons for choosing a particular person. After a brief discussion, I will read a short biography on each of the photographed children and ask students if they still feel the person they initially chose would be a suitable friend. Further discussion will ensue and students will be allowed to make changes based on this new information. I will explain that just as many of them initially chose someone because they looked a certain way, society, too, often accepts (or rejects) individuals based on how they look. I will discuss with students the fact that some of their responses changed after learning about the person initially chosen. At this time, I will stress to students that “Beauty is More Than Skin Deep”: that it is far more important to be a beautiful person on the inside—that a person’s inner beauty makes them attractive and therefore, acceptable to us and ultimately—to society. We will then view and observe all of the films in their entirety and discuss the following story elements of each: the setting, the main and minor characters, the plot, etc. with special emphasis on the characters in the film and the way in which they are depicted. I will begin each discussion by asking my students how they feel about a particular character and why they feel this way. For example, “How do you feel about Cinderella?” ”Why do you feel this way about her?” “What characteristics does she possess that make you feel this way?” “How is she portrayed in this film?” After some discussion of the characters portrayed, I will emphasize again that a character’s inner beauty (or lack thereof) is what attracts us to a certain character or causes us to dislike him/her. This unit will be interdisciplinary in approach. As previously stated, it will tie in nicely with Project Charlie as well as lend itself to various reading, writing, language and art activities. We will culminate this unit by creating an original film centered around this topic of beauty.
is the tale of an orphan girl, Cinderella, who is forced to live with an evil stepmother and her two evil stepsisters. Though burdened with endless chores and dressed in rags, Cinderella radiates beauty because of her inner beauty and innate goodness as seen in her loving relationships with her friends, the animals. With the help of these special friends and a fairy godmother, Cinderella’s “beauty” is revealed to the Prince who falls in love with her and asks her to be his wife. Cinderella is depicted as young, thin, beautiful with long, flowing blonde hair and tiny feet while her evil stepsisters are referred to as “ugly daughters” and “lazy” and portrayed as fat and ugly with big feet. The evil stepmother is similarly portrayed as fat and ugly with a long pointy nose, long dark arched eyebrows, and dark circles around her eyes. Even the stepmother’s cat is depicted as fat and black with a mean scowl and is described as “disagreeable”. The apparent message being that if you are young, thin, and physically attractive; you are a good person and will be rewarded with a handsome prince and live happily ever after. However, if you are fat and physically unattractive; you are a bad person who will end up alone. At this point, I would stress that while Cinderella is no doubt beautiful, it is her “inner beauty” that makes her attractive, and therefore, led to her ultimate happiness and not the reverse. After an extensive discussion of
we will then read other versions of the Cinderella story from around the world. We will begin by reading and discussing the African version,
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
by John Steptoe. Afterwards, we will compare and contrast the original version with its African counterpart using a Venn Diagram as shown on the right. Similarly, we will use Venn Diagrams to compare and contrast the original Cinderella story with versions from Korea
(The Korean Cinderella)
Egypt (The Egyptian Cinderella), and China(
Yeh Shin: A Cinderella Story from China)
Example of Venn Diagram Comparing/Contrasting Cinderella and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
(figure available in print form)
is the story of little Princess Aurora, daughter of King Stefan and his queen. It begins on the day of Princess Aurora’s Christening when the wicked fairy, Maleficent, casts a spell on the little princess that on her sixteenth birthday, the Princess shall prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die! Fearing for their daughter’s life, the King and Queen send little Aurora to live with three good fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Her sixteenth birthday arrives and Princess Aurora is returned to the castle where Maleficent is waiting to encourage her to touch the spinning wheel. Despite warnings from the three good fairies, Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep: a sleep that can only be broken by her true love’s first kiss! Prince Phillip, who is being held captive by Maleficent, escapes and rushes to find Princess Aurora. Phillip kisses the lovely Aurora, who awakens, and the two marry and live happily ever after. In this classic tale, Princess Aurora is young, thin, and beautiful with long, blonde hair and dressed in a brightly colored, flowing gown. The three good fairies, though older and plum, are also dressed in bright colors whereas the wicked fairy, Maleficent, is ugly, colored green, and dressed in black. Again, I would emphasize that Sleeping Beauty’s “inner beauty” make her a beautiful person and not her outward appearance. After viewing
we will create a Character Map listing the characteristics of both Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Maleficent. On the left hand side, I will have students fill in characteristics of Princess Aurora and on the right hand side, characteristics of Maleficent. On the top arrow, they will write words or phrases describing how Princess Aurora feels about Maleficent while on the bottom arrow, they will write words or phrases describing how Maleficent feels about Princess Aurora.
Example of Character Map for Sleeping Beauty
(figure available in print form)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarf’s
is the story of Snow White. When Snow White’s vain and wicked stepmother, the Queen, consults her magic mirror, her worst fear is confirmed—Snow White’s beauty surpasses even her own! Snow White is then taken to the forest by the Queen’s huntsman to be killed. However, the huntsman, realizing her goodness, cannot kill her. He tells Snow White to run and hide in the forest and never return to the castle. It is in the forest that she befriends seven lovable dwarfs who take her into their home. The Queen soon discovers that Snow White is still alive, and dressed as an ugly, old woman, goes to the Dwarfs’ cottage and gives Snow White a poison apple. Snow White bites into the apple and falls into a deep sleep which can only be broken by love’s first kiss. Luckily, a handsome prince gallops in on his white horse, kisses Snow White, and the two ride off to his castle of Dreams Come True! The wicked stepmother is supposed to be very beautiful. However, her cruelty and egotism make her cold and unappealing. Therefore, she is portrayed as ugly and dressed in a black cloak. Later in the story, she disguises herself as an ugly toothless, old woman dressed in black rags. Snow White, on the other hand, is young, thin, and beautiful with milky white skin and rosy cheeks. Despite being dressed in rags, her inner goodness and caring for the Dwarfs, make her even more attractive. Thus emphasizing that a person who is beautiful on the inside is made beautiful on the outside. Following the film, we will construct Semantic Maps of Snow White, the Queen, and the Dwarfs which will show the characteristics of each, their actions, and how they feel about a particular character(s).
(figure available in print form)
The Lion King
is the story of Simba, heir to King Mufasa’s throne over the animals in the Serengeti. It begins with Rafiki’s announcement of Simba’s birth and eventual succession to his father’s royal seat. All the animals in the land are there to celebrate Simba’s birth—everyone, that is, except Scar, Mufasa’s evil brother. Realizing the birth of Simba knocks him out of the running as successor to the throne, Scar devises a plan to kill Mufasa and become king. An added benefit comes when Simba blames himself for his father’s death and flees, leaving Scar’s succession to the throne unthreatened. Eventually, Simba realizes his mistaken belief and returns to reclaim the land and his throne. Scar is killed and peace and goodness reign again in the Serengeti. Mufasa is represented as light, strong and muscular with a powerful voice. He comes across as very masculine. Scar, on the other hand, is depicted as dark, weak and gangly with a more effeminate voice. Simba is also portrayed as light while the hyenas are dark with a very streetwise dialect. The implied message here being that light is good while dark is evil. Of course, I will explain that traditionally goodness is portrayed as light while evil has traditionally been depicted as dark but that does not necessarily mean light is good and dark is evil. Rather, it is a person’s inner beauty that makes them good or a lack thereof that makes them evil. Prior to viewing Disney’s
The Lion King
I will have students complete an Anticipation Guide. In an Anticipation Guide, students are given a series of statements with which they are asked to agree or disagree. The statements are related to concepts, issues, or attitudes presented in a reading selection, or in this case, a film. The purpose is to give 3-5 statements that will result in a difference of opinion thereby generating discussion and debate. An example of a possible Anticipation Guide for this film follows below.