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Teacher Lesson Return to "My Cups Are Half-Empty"
My Cups Are Half-Empty
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Girls and Body Image

(Note: Please use your judgment and knowledge of the maturity level of your class to decide whether to conduct this lesson in an all-girls group, such as in a single-sex health class or a mixed group.)

Goal: Use the story “My Cups Are Half-Empty,” to prompt discussion and writing about healthy body image.

Story summary: For the first two-thirds of the story, the writer comically frets about what her flat chest. In the end, though, she still yearns for larger breasts, she realizes her anatomical endowments aren’t all that important. Along the way she cleverly and humorously pokes fun at the whole issue by using 19 terms to describe her breasts.

Ice Breaker: Before using the story or introducing the topic, hand out a piece of paper to each student. Ask them to write the one thing about their body they would most like to change. Then have them crumple their paper into a ball and throw it at something in the front of the room: blackboard, desk (or even you if you feel comfortable being pelted). Pick up the balls, uncrumple them, and read all or some of the items. If you find a few that that refer to breasts, set them aside to read last. And then say, “I have a short article by a girl that we are going to read and it’s about her discomfort with her breasts .” If you don’t find a breast reference announce that you are surprised no one brought it up and you have a short article etc.

Reading the story: It can be read aloud by an average reader in under five minutes. Read it aloud yourself or take turns around the room. There are a few words you might have to define or make sure your students understand: affliction in the third paragraph, enhancing in the third also, delusion in the second paragraph of the third column, acknowledgment in the second paragraph of the last column.

As the reading proceeds, gauge the group’s reactions. Are they laughing? Frowning? Rolling their eyes? Nodding?

Discussion prompts: First, offer up some general questions based on their reactions during the reading. For example you can say, “I heard some laughter. Who thinks this story is funny? What parts are funny? What is the funniest part?” Or if you sensed some students were nodding in agreement ask what parts of the story made them nod. Did any parts of the story remind them of incidents that happened to them, for example, have they ever been teased by boys about their breasts or have they ever thought about trying to enhance (or reduce) their breasts? Did any of them find the story offensive?

Then you can ask questions more specifically tied to the story. Here are some suggestions:

• How many different names did the writer use to describe her breasts? What are some of them? Which ones are funny or offensive or just trite? Why do you think she used so many names? Did she leave any terms out? Did using these terms make you feel more comfortable with the topic?

• Where in the story does she suggest why she wanted larger breasts? (Note: In the fifth paragraph of the first column she mentions that in junior high she noticed everyone had “cleavage” so peer pressure is a cause; in the sixth paragraph of the first column she says “the media always publicized and encouraged” large breasts. In the last column she describe boys teasing her about her chest.) Do your students experience the same pressures and influences?

• At the end of the story she notes that “skinny girls are in now” so her small dimensions are in style. Do your students agree with her assessment of current fashion? Is it any better for the media to be stressing the beauty of runway models than promoting the desirability of having larger breasts?

• Where in the story does she describe why her breast obsession began to dwindle? (Note: The last column describes her boyfriend’s acceptance of her “as is.”)

Writing Idea
Tell students that everyone has something about themselves they do not like. Too tall. Too short. Too fat. Too thin. Hair too curly. Hair too straight. And we all tend to magnify (and sometimes obsess about) things that other people may hardly notice or care about. For example, how many of us overlook acne on someone else’s face, but are horrified by pimple on our own?)
Assuming you have had students read and discuss this story, make copies of R. R.’s story on the previous page and ask them to read it for homework. Then have them write a short opinion essay on this topic. They can take either side of the issue, but they must choose one side or the other.

Debate Idea
Side 1: Everyone has physical “defects” that bother them, but we just have to learn to live with them. In fact, learning to accept ourselves (and be accepted by others) for who we are, with all our imperfections, is just part of growing up.

Side 2: In today’s day and age, there’s no reason to settle for physical imperfections. A little cosmetic surgery would solve the writer and R. R.’s problems.

You could prompt students a bit. For example, for the student who argue that a little cosmetic surgery would solve the problem, ask them “Where would it end?” Breasts, nose, eyelids, liposuction…there’s no end to ways we could “improve” ourselves. For students who argue that you should just “accept” your body, what about people who have disfiguring accidents…is cosmetic surgery OK then?

Follow-up Debate: Pick the writers of the two best essays and have them debate the issue before the class. Then have another discussion in which all the students can participate.
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