We need to tackle poor body image – here’s how

The first international body image conference, headed by Jo Swinson Minister for Women and Equlaities, was held in the UK in September and the Government report from its findings has just been published. Fourteen leading academics from around the world agree that that poor body image is associated with low self esteem, obesity, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and risky sexual activity. Fat drunken depressed sex maniacs of the world unite and take over!

Related statistics reveal just how endemic the problem of low self esteem is. 25% of girls say they have avoided putting their hand up in class because they are unhappy with the way they look and 87% of girls think that women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability. We have a destructive ticking timebomb on our hands and we are failing an entire generation of young women; radical action is needed.

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Swinson boasts that the Government is, through its Body Confidence campaign, working to encourage more diverse and realistic representation of body shapes, sizes, ages and skin colours. It’s an admirable start, but there is little evidence of how well it is working. We are at crisis point with our young women, and we need strategy and change, not just round table discussions and media backslapping. So here are a few suggestions:

Stop Page 3. The young woman who started No More Page 3, Lucy Holmes, was shocked that the largest female image in The Sun was of a topless young woman despite the fact Jessica Ennis had just won her gold Olympic medal. So she started her campaign. Wondering how exactly Page 3 harms young women’s body perception?  Watch Lucy speak from the heart about how it damaged her self esteem here. Nearly 130,000 people have signed the online petition to end this sexist relic; it’s time the Government took positive action to ban it rather than insulting MPs like Stella Creasy who dare to bring up No More Page 3 for discussion in the House of Commons.

Make sex and relationship education mandatory and fit for the 21st century. Besides the nuts and bolts, a module on body image and media representation could provide a counterpoint to the onslaught of manipulated and sexualised images young people see every day. The conversation should also feed into how these images influence sexual and relationship expectations. Making our young people literate in this area is key to changing how young women feel about themselves, and how young men and women relate to each other.

Look beyond obesity as the end problem and take a holistic approach.  The Government is very good at bullying anyone deemed to be bringing the rest of us down. The Health at Every Size movement takes a radical and rounded approach to weight and health. The Government should adopt its strategy for a healthy population; a no bullying vibe is at its core.

Make physical education interesting and inclusive. As the chubby kid who was always chosen last in PE class but was desperate to be involved, I speak from experience. We need to find inclusive and innovative ways of engaging young people- especially girls- in sport. The Olympic Legacy is fading in the distance due to Government cuts, and there’s no use talking about an obesity epidemic if young people aren’t interested or engaged in physical activity. Wii classes, anyone? Or how about buying back the school playing fields Thatcher was so quick to sell off? That would be a great way to show the Government is dedicated to active, healthy kids.

And what about those of us past school age? The report states that the Government is working with the fitness industry to encourage gym attendance.  Have these people never been locked into one of those hideously unfair gym contracts? And with the average gym costing about £50 a month, who has the spare cash when we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis?  This is the wrong approach, and typical of a Tory led government looking to big business to inadequately solve problems they should be sorting out themselves.

Most importantly, we need to ask whether investment in young women’s well being is a priority; I am not convinced the Government believes it is. Dave and co – the future is female. Get over it.

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