I wanted to share this article as this week sees the launch of the Loose Women Body Stories campaign.
Most parents are well aware that a child’s self-image can have a huge impact on their psychological and physical health. However, a report recently commissioned by government minister Jo Swinson has shown that children’s perception of how they look can affect their academic achievement, their contribution to society and even their choice of career.
Costing the Invisible is based on research carried out by the Centre for Appearance Studies at the University of the West of England. It brings together evidence from 25 studies about the effects of body anxiety on girls and women. The studies questioned girls and women from five continents and forty-nine thousand participants aged between ten and sixty took part.
The report includes some worrying statistics, including the fact that one in five girls don’t put up their hand in class as they don’t want to draw attention to their appearance. One in seven girls would skip a class for the same reason. The report also reveals that poor body image and lack of self-esteem create barriers, especially for high-achieving girls. It’s estimated that poor self-image deprives the economy of 200,000 business women.
Our looks are a part of who we are and it’s normal for girls to express their personality through their clothes and makeup. However, problems occur when society emphasizes appearance above everything else. This puts girls under enormous pressure. Jo Swinson believes that “huge amounts of creativity and ambition would be unlocked if we could relieve girls from the critical scrutiny of a society obsessed with a narrow and unrealistic ideal of beauty.”
This is where the Be Real campaign comes in. Founded in partnership with Dove, Be Real is a national movement which aims to build a body confident nation. They claim that “low body confidence is damaging people’s lives. It affects everyone-all ages, both sexes-and starts young. It impacts people’s physical and mental health and holds them back in life, stopping them from achieving all that they could.”
Be Real wants schools to promote body confidence as soon as children begin their education and they have published resources to help schools do this. Indeed, Dove has recently called for Body Confidence to become part of the national curriculum from key stage three onwards. My daughter’s school is already trying to build their pupils’ self-esteem and one of the simple tools they are using is V.I.P Friday.
V.I.P Friday involves a member of year six being chosen to be a V.I.P for the day. The teacher, one girl, and one boy are invited to write down something they like about the VIP’s personality, with the aim of boosting their self-esteem. This may seem a very small thing, but my daughter came home beaming when she was chosen and I encouraged her to display her positive comments on her bedroom wall. V.I.P Friday works well because it helps pupils to identify positive aspects of their personality and, crucially, the compliments are not based on appearance.
Dr. Emma Halliwell, one of the authors of Costing the Invisible, says, “when society teaches girls that their appearance is intrinsically linked to their value as a person and that their looks matter, society undermines girls’ and women’s potential to thrive.”
Our children need to see that they way they look is only part of who they are. If they are to develop into confident fulfilled adults, we need to support them by identifying and encouraging the talents, interests and character traits which make them unique.