Beauty is Skin Deep

During this lesson, students will reflect on the ways they have experienced or participated in bias based on physical size and appearance—and will discuss how society’s expectations about body image and appearance affect people. Students build on their media literacy skills as they examine media images for messages that consciously and unconsciously affect attitudes and behaviors toward others. Finally, the class will explore ways to get beyond appearance as a dominant force in their social lives.Note: This lesson has been adapted with permission from the original created by GLSEN for its program, No Name-Calling Week. 
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • discuss how various forms of media (electronic, digital, and print) reinforce frequently unrealistic expectations regarding body size and appearance.
  • demonstrate media literacy skills and critical thinking as they review "attractiveness messages" in the media.
  • take action to look beyond appearance as a dominant force in their social lives.
Essential Questions
  • What messages does the media usually send out about people and their physical appearances?
  • What might be the result of the media’s tendency to portray people who are a certain size and appearance?
  • Enduring Understandings:
    • The media generally presents images of men and women who are a certain size and have a certain appearance—reflecting society’s pressure on people to conform to those sizes and appearances.
    • People often have unreal expectations of appearance, size and other physical attributes for themselves and others, which results in their judging others unfairly based on those expectations.


bias [ by-uhs ] (noun) a particular tendency, inclination, feeling, or opinion, that is preconceived; prejudice or unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group

cliché [ klee-shey ] (noun) a trite, stereotyped expression, sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality and impact by long overuse, such as “strong as an ox”

media literacy [ mee-dee-uh lit-er-uh-see ] (noun) the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create electronic, digital, print media in a variety of forms and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce media messages.


Suggested Procedure

1. Post the questions below on an easel pad or white board. Read them aloud, and ask students to write a “yes or no” response to each question.

  • Have you ever been on the receiving end of a cruel comment about your physical size or appearance?
  • Have others ever let you know, in some way, that you’re not attractive enough?
  • Do you find clothes shopping unpleasant because of fears about how others will judge you?
  • Have you ever skipped an activity to avoid comments about your appearance?
  • Do you think often about dieting because of comments about your weight?
  • Have you considered changing aspects of your appearance to look better to others?
  • Have you ever made cruel comments to others about their appearance?

Ask: “How did you answer most of the questions?” (yes or no) Explain: “Most people would answer yes to at least one question because judgments about size and appearance are common, although these questions are unfair. Ask: “Why might people be quick to form opinions about others based on their appearance, without getting to know them?” Guide students to discuss where people get ideas about what others are "supposed to look like.”

2. Lead a class discussion about how the media influences our ideas of body image and attractiveness. Explore how movies, magazines, Web sites, television, and even video games often communicate unrealistic ideas about body image, and put pressure on people to look a certain way. Note that people frequently are unaware of the many messages they receive.

3. Distribute Messages from the Media, or use a projector to display it at the front of the room. Ask students to respond to these statistics and to comment on the extent to which they think they are affected by "attractiveness messages" they receive on a daily basis. Tell students that one way to resist some of the media’s false messages about appearance—and their effect on our self-esteem and behavior toward others—is to become media literate. This means thinking about the values behind media images, raising critical questions about them, and being aware of who created them and for what purpose.

4. Explain to students that they will be practicing media literacy skills by selecting up to three media representations to study. Give them time to find the media representations from select magazines, Web sites, TV shows, commercials, and movies or music videos that are popular with their peers. Then, have students do research to complete the chart, Media Investigation: Physical Appearance and Attractiveness (PDF). Encourage them use to take notes as they do their research.

For each item that they study, ask students to write the answers to the following questions:

  • Who created the magazine (or show, video, movie, etc.) and for what purpose?
  • How many and what type of "attractiveness messages" were communicated? (These can be verbal, types of people or characters, gestures or expressions, types of clothing, etc.)
  • Do these messages reflect real life and real people in your community?
  • What are the values or beliefs behind these messages? Do you agree with them?
  • What techniques are being used to get you to buy into the messages?
  • How might these messages affect your own or others’ attitudes about physical appearance?
  • What important images or messages have been left out?

5. Suggest to students that expressions such as "Beauty is only skin deep" and "Don’t judge a book by its cover" seem to be empty clichés in our culture today. Let students form two groups and lead them to debate the question: “Do you think that most people reflect those values in their behavior toward others?” Challenge students to discuss why they agree or disagree expressing ideas clearly and persuasively. Then guide both groups of students to identify ways to change the culture in their class or school to get beyond appearance as a dominant force in the way they relate to one another. List the ideas on an easel pad or white board. Invite students to create a plan to put the ideas into action.


Extension Activity

Tell students that girls across the country are developing new ways of thinking about beauty each year. For example, a program called “Turn Beauty Inside Out Day” invites students to submit essays about people who are beautiful inside and out. Ask students to write an essay about a person in their lives who exemplifies that kind of "beautiful" (Point out that it doesn’t have to be a girl). Assign this as a homework writing activity. After reviewing the essays, ask for volunteers to share their pieces with the class and to ask for feedback from their peers.

Note: The handout, Turn Beauty Inside Out Day Winning Essays, includes some of the entries, which you can share with your students.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards: CCSS R.1, R.4, R.6, R.7, W.1, W.7, W.8, W.9, SL.1, SL.3, SL.4, L.4, L.5

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