Body Confidence

The Sunday Times carried an article today by Marie Woolf on how the Liberal Democrat Body Confidence campaign which was founded by myself and Jo Swinson will be carried forward in government. In the coalition agreement – there is a reference to ‘responsible advertising and the commercialisation and sexualisation of children’. So it fits partly with that – but partly too – with the public health part of the agreement.

There is a growing army of programs, articles, etc because there is a growing awareness of the detriment caused. We always hear about eating disorders – but whilst there is some evidence of a connection in this regard – there are often more reasons than one for that devastating outcome. However, additionally, the constant pressure to look impossibly perfect, be like the skinny celebrities and conform to imposed stereotypes is creating a rising tide of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and so on.

Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’, Susie Orbach; Erin O’Connor, Debra Bourne and Caryn Franklin’s campaign: All Walks Beyond the Catwalk; Girl Guides with their campaign on anorexia and bulimia – and many more – all recognising the pressure now applied to women, girls and coming up fast – men too – to conform to impossibly perfect images.

In the last session, Jo and I held a seminar on Body Confidence. There are so many groups out there working on this issue – because of the constant and unremitting diet of false images that is fed to us and the harm it is doing. Backed by academics and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – the campaign to make advertisements honest and transparent, teach children media literacy, get fashion schools to teach students to cut a range of sizes, encourage more and different sports for young people – found itself joining up with a whole host of work in the same direction.

That seminar was pivotal. When we saw the work and the need for a joined up push back at the fashion, beauty, food , magazine and advertising industries being fought by individual Davids against these mega Goliaths – we brought it to last Autumn’s LibDem conference as part of our new ‘Real Women’ policy paper – where it passed. It was also in our manifesto at the election.

The Conservatives too, have been very concerned about the pressure particularly on young girls – hence the inclusion of all of this in the coalition agreement. 

In the autumn, we are gathering some of the key people who want to take this forward to a round table discussion on next steps. Amongst those will be representatives from: Girl Guides, YMCA, Mumsnet, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, Susie Orbach and others.

We have no desire to impose regulation or restriction on advertisers or others – so we will be looking to work with the industries involved on a voluntary basis – in the first instance.

0 thoughts on “Body Confidence

  1. If you really cared about women you wouldn’t be part of a Government which is pushing through endless measures which will hurt them financially (see previous remarks from many contributors about how women will suffer most from your programme of cuts), threaten the education of their children (via Michael Gove) and – if they were to be sexually assaulted – would suggest from the outset that they are liars by offering an accused man special State protection.

    You say you want to ‘encourage more and different sports for young people’ How does cutting free swimming for children help you achieve this?

    And are you seriously equating Gok Wan with Susie Orbach?

  2. A friend of mine has just left with his three children after a sleepover at our place. They are planning to go swimming this afternoon – their last chance to take advantage of the free swimming for children in Islington.
    In future he will have to pay somewhere around £15 every time they go swimming instead of about £4 (for himself) currently.
    I would be very interested to hear your view, Lynne, on how this fits in with your concerns about body image. Thousands of children in this area – and throughout the country – will no longer have access to free swimming. The same for elderly people. This means that many, many children and elderly people will no longer go swimming, or at least, much less often.
    Lynne, in line with your concerns about health and body image, will you publicly oppose the end of free swimming for children and the elderly?
    I would really appreciate an answer, thanks.

  3. This means that many, many children and elderly people will no longer go swimming, or at least, much less often.

    Actually, if you read the government’s announcement, you will see that the programme was cut precisely because it did not result in more people engaging in physical activity. All it did was shuffle round the activities that people did.

    Hence, cutting the programme should be expected to also have no effect.

  4. Lynne, do you agree with Andrew that cutting free swimming for children and the elderly will have no negative impacts?

  5. As reported in New Scientist last year, men are just as psychologically impacted by the desire to fit an idealised, unrealistic body image as women. However there is much greater pressure on men not to open up and admit to this often resulting in many years of depression and anxiety. Men are expected to ‘man up’ when feeling self-conscious and yet women are entirely sympathised with.

    It seems that the whole piece was written from a female perspective, was not researched in the slightest and conforms to all the old sexist cliches about female and male (by implication) body perspectives.

    There is a huge amount of awareness out there about female body perspective and the negative impact of unrealistic advertsing but hardly any about male body perspective and yet this blog and all the subsequent newspaper coverage now focusses entirely on the old sexist position i.e. ‘women are the only sex to care about appearance’ rather than making any meaningful, realistic commentary on a difficult area.

    There is of course the throw away ‘men too’ comment, which only enforces the idea that a smaller number of men than women are affected by this issue. This has been shown to be completely untrue.

    It would have been nice for the equalities minister to treat both sexes equally on this matter and to actually use some of the illuminating and sterotype busting research thats out there on this issue, rather than simply proliferate the sterotype.

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  8. There is so much to focus on in the equality field, injustice of any sort is unacceptable whether it be the focus on size 0 being the best role model or disability hate crime you choose!!!

  9. Andrew Suffield, please check your facts before trotting out government propaganda to support your argument in favour of abolishing free swimming for the young and the elderly.
    The facts are that when free swimming was introduced, there was a rise of almost 50 per cent of under-16s going swimming – 5.52 million swims.
    Research cited by the government shows that about 83% of those aged 60 and over and 73% of those aged 16 and under were swimming already and would have paid to swim anyway.
    Put that the other way round: about one in five of the 60-and-over age group and more than a quarter of 16-and-unders started to go swimming when charges were dropped, and, conversely, may well no longer go swimming as a result of charges being reintroduced.
    It seems axiomatic that those who will no longer go swimming will be the worst-off financially – almost certainly those for whom it would bring the most benefit.

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  11. It is all good and well to blame the media for projecting images of what is considered the “perfect body”, but I think there’s a much bigger underlying issue: our own obsession with self-scrutiny.

    I think if young women were brought up to feel beautiful and self-confident by those around them, images of “the perfect body” would have less of a destructive impact.

    You might find this interesting: