Campaign for Body Confidence

Something really fantastic happened yesterday. Readers of this blog will know that Jo Swinson MP and myself have been leading a campaign to push back against the overwhelming onslaught of overly perfected images of the human form that come at us constantly from the beauty, media, fashion, diet industries. We have reached the point where we know that what once seemed relatively harmless – is damaging us. Depression, anxiety, lack of self esteem, eating disorders are on the rise – in women, young people especially – and are rising in men too.

Yesterday Jo and I held a summit for all those individuals and groups who are working away in their different spheres of influence to push back against the mega-buck industry onslaught that feeds off of making us feel bad about ourselves.

Last autumn, Liberal Democrat passed our policy paper for Women – which whilst it had many policies on equal pay, violence against women, etc – also had a section on body image – and it was this part of our policy paper that caught light in the media – and more importantly – resonated with real people out in the country who are in touch with this problem on a daily basis.

Essentially our paper proposes the labelling of advertisements that have been digitally enhanced or airbrushed (transparency and honesty in advertising);  would require models to have health certificates demonstrating that their BMI is healthy; encourages sport and exercise in schools and a widening from the traditional sports on offer to include young people who don’t feel comfortable in those particular sports; would introduce media literacy and body confidence in the PSHE lessons in schools and in the fashion colleges require students to be taught to cut for sizes other than simply a six or eight size.

Our campaign has gained the backing of world-wide academics, doctors and clinical psychologists – who have provided the evidential base to make this case. We are also supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists who are backing our call for labelling digitally altered advertisements; by BEAT, by the Girl Guides and many others.

Jo had an adjournment debate on body image and Baroness Thompson had a debate in the Lords on media literacy.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received five complaints only last year about airbrushing (clearly they don’t promote complaining to them) as when we found an advertisement that had been so altered – it was Twiggy advertisig Olay eye cream – where she had been very digitally enhanced and put it on our Campaign for Real Women website – 700 complaints came in to the ASA and the advertisement was withdrawn.

Obviously that is just a tiny example of how people can make things change – but the ASA doesn’t seem to be that interested in labelling or taking on this challenge and will only work single ad by single ad.

Hence – our summit. What we have found is that there are a lot of individuals and groups working away at trying to push back against the harm that is being done. Yesterday we drew people involved in this campaign – in all their different ways – together for a summit.

Jo chaired the meeting and the speakers were myself, Caryn Franklin, TV presenter and founder of ‘All Walks Beyond the Catwalk’ – a campaign for diversity in the fashion industry www.allwalks.org; Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue and Bodies; Big Ideas and convener of AnyBody campaign www.any-body.org; Dr Helga Dittmar, academic and author of Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-Being and The search for the ‘good life’ and ‘body perfect and Laurie Penny – feminist blogger and freelance journalist.

Also there was Linda Papadopoulos – whose independent report for the Government on the sexualisation of children was published last week.

Each speaker drove home from their own field of expertise the very real issues that have driven all of us to arrive at this point – where we are basically all saying enough is enough – and fighting to push back against the conformity to the cult of the thin, the perfect and the consumer.

The contributions from the floor were equally forceful covering a plethora of issues aligned to the key issues addressed in this summit.

The ambition of the summit was to draw these strands together and to form a loose collective where we all continue in our own spheres to push forward the campaign for body confidence and to which we are all committed and pledged to meet at least twice a year to move forward the agenda and to report back on actions and successes.

The energy, determination and sheer force of the arguments were literally buzzing – and I have no doubt that this campaign will go from strength to strength. Small steps from each of us will be how to eat this elephant – and whilst the individual steps like getting misleading adverts to have to declare by labelling the extent to which they have been digitally enhanced are relatively small – at the other end of the scale lies many of the reasons for the ills in society from the obesity epidemic to violence against women.

Everyone there has signed the pledge to Campaign for Body Confidence. We will all keep in touch through this network now – and fight together and individually to further the cause.

0 thoughts on “Campaign for Body Confidence

  1. WELL SAID Lynne! This message needs to get through to women AND men!
    The following verse from Kahlil Gibran supports this:
    And the weaver said, “Speak to us of Clothes.”
    And he answered:
    Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
    And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
    Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
    For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.
    Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes to wear.”
    But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
    And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
    Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.
    And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
    And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

    Hope this is useful!

  2. I think we need some caution here – I took a look at that anybody.org site and there really were one or two large women on it who’s obesity was clearly going to be damaging their health. Suggesting being such a size is somehow “normal” and acceptable really is quite harmful and it’s really important we don’t move from one extreme to another. Perhaps I’m doing people a disservice and such issues were discussed at the conference, would be interesting to know.

    Even more importantly it is also concerning just how much gender politics is going on here. Any Lib Dems at all interested in equality should be rejecting sexist phrases such as “violence against women” as they a very much come from a harmful world view of domestic violence as a gender issue – a myth which was debunked long, long ago.

    At least 40% of domestic violence vicitms are men, and for younger people under 25 male vicitms now outnumber females. (source is UK Crime Survey) .Despite this there are almost no shelters for men, and the government’s latest reaction is to spend £2 million on a campaign who’s sole message is that boys need to stop abusing their girlfriends!

    Further still, such nonsensical phrases cause people to completely ignore the realities of domestic violence. For example half of domestic violence cases are “against” anyone – male or female. They’re reciprocal with two equally violent parties. Yes women might come off worse sometimes, but again most research shows they tend to be the ones landing the first blow.

    Perhaps the Lib dems could have a campaign on how male domestic violence vicitms are treated by the media and in advertising? (and the police for that matter) You see countless adverts with men belittled and abused and no one bats an eye lid (and most are for products aimed at women). Here’s a particualrly nasty example by Littlewoods:

    http://therightsofman.typepad.co.uk/the_rights_of_man/2008/03/lx-littlewoods.html

    Any newspaper covering a story on a male DV victims rarely ever uses the term “domestic”, it’s exclusively reserved for female vicitms of male abuse. In fact, should any man here have a woman mutilate or cut off his genitals, a common reaction would be to laugh at the situation and praise the female perpetrator

    You did at least mention men in the first paragraph but you’ve only focused on eating disorders . If your campaigning was more gender neutral and you had some joined up thinking then you’d be able to focus on even more significant issues such as steroid abuse and male models who use steroids. It’s just as unrelaisitc for men to aspire to be like a models who’s on steroids as it is for a woman to obtain and airbrushed type figure. Just think of the consequences too – massive kidney damage, fertility issues and of course extreme bouts of aggression, presumably resulting in domestic violence eventually?

    What research have you done on models using steroids please Lynne, and will you be requiring similar health warnings for imaginary resulting from steroid use as you will for airbrushed ones please?

  3. Dear Lynne
    I’ve just heard your Woman’s Hour piece on exercise. Fantastic!

    I’m a fashion designer and image consultant (which I have recently been doing in Japan (since 2006)) AND avid runner and whole-heartedly support your view and support the All Walks Beyond the Catwalk Campaign.

    I believe every woman has great beauty. And it’s my job as a designer and stylist to facilitate that – enhancing that natural beauty. As designers we should make the garment fit the person, not the person fit the garment! After all we aren’t creating art we are created needed and wanted design and design has an end customer – the general public! I work everyday to promote this view. I hope to make in-roads in the fashion industry and try to change it from the inside.

    I’m currently unemployed and recently have approached my local jobcentre in Sussex to help them with getting long-term unemployed (mainly single mothers) back to work through the sponsored events they told. I will be offering my image services for free as a means of promoting confidence among those that have struggled with low self-esteem and a discriminating job-market. If you’re interested, I’ll let you know how I get on.

    I recently went to Graduate Fashion Week and couldn’t attend the All Walk Beyond the Catwalk lecture because I wasn’t an exhibitor. This was a great disappointment. I think your and their campaigned should be more widely publicised and I’d like to help in anyway I can i.e. stuffing envelopes etc, etc.

    Thank you so much for all your effort! We need more public figures like you that are interested in people rather than forwarding their own careers through trendy topics.

    Take care and good luck with the campaign. Pippa