Ok, own up, how many times have you asked yourself or your better half, this question? Personally, it will have been many a time, and not just that, but, ‘Do I look fat in this?’, ‘Am I too pear shaped’, ‘Does my stomach stick out?’ For most of my life, I have had a questionable body image. If only I could go back in time and tell myself at 18, that there was nothing wrong with my body. And there still isn’t. It’s just shit hard to believe that. Perhaps that’s why I chose the path for my current WIP.
My third novel covers the story of Tammy, a teen living in the south of England in the 80’s, who thinks if she is thin, she can be one of the crowd and act in the school play. Her dieting gets out of control and the anorexic voice takes over. Does Tammy achieve her dream of becoming an actress or will Ana ravage her body to just skin and bone? Only time will tell.
Over half of 11 to 16-year olds worry about how they look and over half are also bullied about their appearance. Of the latter, for 40% this occurs every week. Body image is a mind-set – it is how we see ourselves. It is extremely difficult to keep a positive body image in an environment where we are bombarded with images of airbrushed models, film stars and celebrities. Magazines, social media, television and bill boards all portray those in the limelight as faultless beings with perfect skin, perfect bodies and perfect lives.
Children as young as three are worried about how they look and some primary school kids are well aware of strategies to lose weight. Less than half of children learn about body confidence in schools, but of those who do 76% feel more positive about themselves.
“Body image anxiety stops children from putting their hand up in class; discourages children and adults from exercising; leads to a variety of eating disorders; young people taking less care of themselves during sex; substance abuse; and is directly linked to weight gain.”
So, what can we, as parents, friends and peers, do? For starters, we can remember and remind those more impressionable, the huge team of trainers, stylists, make-up artists, photographers, nutritionists and plastic surgeons, who follow the models, actors and other celebrities around. And think of the hours, work and money that went into their photograph/film/advertisement.
We can give realistic compliments – on someone’s inner beauty for a change, let’s not focus just on what we see. Praise based on something other than appearance provides small deposits into a person’s self-esteem and over time, these deposits build. A confident and self-assured person believes their opinions matter and they think what they have to offer the world is important.
We can also sign up to and spread the word of the excellent positive promotions that have been established over the last few years. Founded by Dove in 2014 the Be Real Campaign unites individuals and organisations, working to change attitudes and behaviour around body confidence. #PledgeToBeReal is the Body Image Pledge movement created by the Be Real Campaign, to bring about cultural and behavioural change in the portrayal of body image in the advertising, fashion, media and music industries.
We can also encourage children and teens to look up to positive role models, not just those touting make-up brands with their tutorials, or giving hours of guidance on how to play the latest video game, or simply vlogging about their day-to-day lives. For example, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, is practically a household name for having stood up to the Taliban. Her book, I am Malala, became an international bestseller and she co-founded the non-profit organisation the Malala Fund to champion every girl’s right to an education. Also, Rowan Blanchard who stars in the new film A Wrinkle in Time, is a passionate humanitarian and feminist and recently published an unedited look into her life with her book Still Here. Plus, there is Jazz Jennings, a LGTBQ rights activist and one of the youngest transgenders in the public eye. She co-founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation to support children and families affected by gender dysphoria, transitioning and the barriers they may face.
And there are many more. One particular group of girls that I have recently discovered are the Fit and Fearless girls, with their Radio 5 Live podcast, spouting their knowledge, advice and beliefs on fitness and body confidence. I would encourage anyone interested in keeping fit and eating well, male or female, to listen to them. Tally, Vic and Zanna met through Instagram and share a love for health, fitness and nutrition. They created the #girlgains movement to “unite women, create a community and educate, empower and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves.” Well, what an inspiring bunch! Thank you girls.