Books to Help Students Explore Body Image

By Kasey Short

In middle school students experience significant physical and emotional changes as part of adolescent development. Body image can become a complex and sensitive topic for students.

As their bodies are changing, they want to fit in with their peers, and additionally, they are bombarded with media messages that promote unrealistic beauty standards.

Reading books that explore body image can help students feel less alone in their struggles, provide valuable insights and coping mechanisms, and encourage them to seek help if needed. These books can also play a powerful role in developing self-esteem and self-compassion, as well as developing empathy and understanding for others.

Having these books on the shelves of classroom and school libraries provides access to students who are interested. Knowing the themes and situations in the books allows classroom teachers and library specialists to recommend them as part of whole class book recommendations and share with specific students who would benefit from reading them. I also recommend sharing the list with school counselors who may know more students who would benefit from the books.

As with any sensitive topic, it is often easier for students to discuss a book character having a similar issue than for them to talk about themselves. These books can serve as a starting point for personal reflection and important conversations about body image, self-esteem, mental health, compassion, and can help students feel comfortable sharing their own feelings and experiences.

Suggested Writing Prompts and
Questions for Personal Reflection 

1. How do the character’s experiences compare to your own experiences? How are you similar and different?
2. What advice do you think the character would give you if you met them at the end of their story?
3. Are there any moments in the book that resonated with you personally? Why do you think these moments stood out?
4. How do your relationships (friends, family, peers, teammates, etc.) impact how you feel about your body/appearance/self?
5. What healthy approaches to body images and self-esteem did you learn about in the book? Are there any that you can apply to yourself?
6. How does media influence your own body image? What could you do to combat any negative influences in the media?
7. How can we create a more supportive environment for ourselves and others when it comes to body image and self-esteem?
8. Describe a time when you felt good about your body. What made you feel that way?
9. Have you ever compared your body to someone else’s? How did it make you feel?
10. Have you ever felt pressure to look a certain way? How did you handle it?

Suggested Questions for Discussion  

1. How does the character view themselves? What has caused them to feel this way?
2. Does the character change throughout the story? What caused the change?
3. What societal influences impact the main character’s body image?
4. Would you want to be friends with the character? Explain why or why not.
5. How do the relationships (friends, family, peers, teammates, etc.) in the book influence the main character’s body image?
6. What coping mechanisms or strategies does the main character use to deal with negative body image? Are these healthy or unhealthy approaches?
7. How does the author use language and descriptions to convey the main character’s feelings about their body? How does this impact your understanding of the character?
8. Do you think the media plays a role in shaping how the main character feels about their body?
9. How do cultural or societal norms around beauty and body image differ from those portrayed in the book? How do these differences affect individuals’ self-perception?
10. What message do you think the author is trying to convey about body image through the story? Do you agree with this message?

Book Recommendations

A Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner

Lerner uses illustrations and poetry to convey powerful emotions for middle grades readers. Will’s story shows the potential impact of words. When he is called “fat” by a classmate, it drastically impacts how he sees himself and how he interacts with others.

He begins hiding himself in baggy clothes and tries to go unnoticed at school because he feels embarrassment and shame because of his body size. When he tries to drastically change his weight, his disordered eating results in a dangerous situation.

This story also showcases the positive impact of a good friend and how having support from a friend can make all the difference. The teacher guide offers specific questions and activities to connect to the story.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

This emotional novel in verse captures readers’ hearts through Ellie’s raw and emotional journey. Ellie is bullied about her weight by her peers, and her mother criticizes her and pushes her to diet. Ellie has rules that she follows to help her go unnoticed and only feels comfortable in her pool.

Then with the help of a therapist, her father and a friend, she begins to develop a greater sense of self-worth. The teacher guide offers questions and activities to connect to this amazing story. 

Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

As with all of Barbara Dee’s books, this one captures the essence of adolescent experiences. Tally is assigned to be roommates with Ava, her middle school “enemy,” on the school field trip to Washington D.C.

As she spends time with Ava, she realizes there might be more to her than she thought. Ava is rarely eating, keeps a notebook of her food, and is struggling. Tally realized that sometimes being a friend means you must share their secret to get them help they need.

The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

This novel in verse explores the vast impact of bullying because of someone’s appearance, friendship, cultural traditions and having a little bit of “magic.” Etan has been selectively mute since his mother left and gets to know Malia who is called “the creature” by her peers. Malia has eczema on her face and had been tormented so much that she stopped going to school. Together each finds a much needed friend and they use a little “magic” to find healing.

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein

Will is self-conscious and made fun of by his peers because of a genetic malformation of his chin. Because of this, he tries to stay out of the spotlight and blend in. During Will’s Bar Mitzvah year, he is assigned to spend time with a teen in the hospital who has a terminal illness.

At first they don’t get along but then develop a powerful friendship that inspires Will to complete a bucket list for his new friend that requires him to come out of his shell. This book shows the impact of dealing with self-doubt and body image issues as well as the power of a friendship and trying new things.

More Recommendations

Louder Than Hunger by John Schu

The New David Espinoza by Fred Aceves

Before We Were Blue by E. J. Schwartz

A-Okay by Jared Greene

Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy

All of Me by Chris Baron

Wink by Rob Harrell

Taking Up Space and Braced by Alyson Gerber  

Additional Resources

Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) is the Middle School Director of Studies and an 8th Grade English Teacher and Advisor at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School. Kasey loves to share ideas from her classroom and her leadership roles and writes frequently for MiddleWeb. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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