Body Confidence – Girl Guides

Today the Girl Guides are calling for warning symbols to be stamped on airbrushed pictures of models and actresses to curb a rise in eating disorders. They are launching an online petition for compulsory labelling to inform people whether an image has been digitally altered / airbrushed. It’s available on the Girlguiding UK website – and they expect 20,000 young women (and hopefully young men too) to sign up. I have sent them a message of support – and was pleased to see LibDem MP Jo Swinson on Sky talking about the importance of transparency and honesty in advertising.

The Girl Guides have done an incredible amount of work over recent years with their annual ‘attitude surveys’ and their most recent survey showed that girls as young as ten are worried about their weight.

Boys and men too, are becoming more and more under pressure  to have perfectly muscled and toned bodies leading to, in some cases, misuse of steroids.

In 2007 I posted this about the start of my relationship with Girlguiding and I am very pleased that they will be part of the first round table discussion on Body Confidence / next steps – in the late autumn.

In a class a couple of years above me at my secondary school was the most beautiful girl imaginable. To those of us less physically blessed teenagers – she embodied all that we wished for. She became a model at about sixteen gracing the covers of the top fashion magazines. One day at assembly, the Headmistress said she had some sad news to give us. This girl, this beautiful being, had been found dead in a suicide pact with her boyfriend in New York.

Of course, I don’t know the story behind what happened – but it was a salutary lesson about how there is so much more to life and happiness than physical appearance.

We all have a hard time growing up. Some of it really painful. Much of it to do with will I be liked? Will boys ask me out? And even if they do -that never really assuages the self doubt. And even if it does – just wait until you next see the TV, read a newspaper or pick up a magazine. Look younger now, Be slimmer tomorrow. The pressure to be self-conscious and anxious about your image is nearly relentless – and that much harder to deal with the younger you are.

At the recent Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, I was invited to speak at a fringe meeting where the report ‘Under 10 and Under Pressure’ was launched. The Girl Guides along with Beat (the UK’s leading eating disorder charity) had commissioned research into girls between 7 and 10. It seems incredibly young – but there is an increase in eating disorders amongst this age group – and that’s only one aspect of the pressures so many young children seem to be under from our modern society and media And what kind of identity does Western society offer to women and girls? Why does this lead to such dramatic problems of self-esteem, such as depression and eating disorders?

Well – if you ask a woman what she likes least about herself, she will rarely say “I hate my personality”; instead she will say “I hate my teeth”, or thighs, or some other physical attribute. I am as guilty as the rest.

Of course, the younger a person is, the less capacity they have to counter negative influences, due to their lack of experience and intellectual maturity. Children will be influenced by myths of perfection much more easily than adults. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to resist, given that ever-younger demographics are being targeted by advertisers, acting on behalf of business wishing to sell products to a new market.

Now, it’s very easy to blame the media as regards promoting these superficial values, where physical perfection is prized over internal integrity. And certainly, the media IS the primary arbiter of our culture; its influence is ubiquitous and provides the benchmark by which we judge ourselves. However, laying the blame solely at their door is not desperately constructive.

The lifestyle of the pre-teens has been the focus of a relatively recent campaign of commercialization, including adult-style clothing and makeup at the same time as they have unprecedented access to the media via the internet.

So the pressure to become mini-clones and mini-consumers is immense – and the effect on some girls has clearly been the same as on their teenage counterparts.

The answer is to seek balance – to value forms of status other than simply appearance. So, friends, activities, sport, study – and just being a nice person – kindness, humour, gentleness – need to become valued virtues.

Part of the solution lies with the media – and what a fantastic service it is that the BBC provides with its CBeebies channel, allowing children to enjoy the best of what TV can bring – the fun, the entertainment, the education – without being subjected to a commercial barrage of advertisements. That is public broadcasting at its very best.

But the clear message from the research was how important peer relationships are to young girls’ self-esteem.

This is why girl-guiding, or groups such the Girl Guides are so important, as they offer the perfect environment for girls to develop in a safe and secure environment – helping them to improve and develop positive self-esteem and to see values both in life and in their compatriots that go beyond appearance.

0 thoughts on “Body Confidence – Girl Guides

  1. “And what kind of identity does Western society offer to women and girls”

    the identity that they can do whatever they want in society and ahve as many options as they want. They can choose to be in either the girl guides or in the boy scouts, whereas equality laws don’t seem to apply to female only organisations and any male wanting to join the guides can get stuffed.

  2. I am sorry I am adding this blog out of context the subject but really want to draw your attention on this.

    UK Border Agency has gone out of its way to discriminate against the children of British mothers. As you know we are already discriminated against when it comes to automatic nationality, payment of fees etc. Now they have posted a news item on their web site allowing immigrants who have ILR to be able to present expired passports to evidence their right to work but not those who are actually the children of British female citizens born in the UK ie English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish. These children have close family and blood ties and live here with the same rights as British with a certificate placed on their commonwealth passports. If it expires there ability to prove that they have a right to work expires and they are now being discriminated against while immigrants are allowed under new rules to evidence their expired passports.
    How can this be happening in this country, have they lost all sense of reason that they can treat the children of British citizens in this way. I hope you really get to read this as Parliament is in recess and the timing of the UKBA announcement is incredible. Please please give this your urgent attention even though you are going to be busy with the party conference.

  3. Lynne

    You are awfully quiet and your blog site seems to be quite sick. Some people are saying it is censoritis but I feel sure that if it was assessed for incapacity benefit it wouldn’t pass the tests. Perhaps you need to contract out the work on your site away from Puffbox?

    Do you have anything at all to say to us about anything of substance that is happening in your name in the UK at the moment? Have you any views on the job losses in the health sector or is that just down to the way we have been living etc? Were the 52 votes the LibDems got in a recent by-election anything of a surprise?

    Please say something even if it’s only a party central missive. I do very much miss all the funny bits.

  4. Lynne,
    Your campaign, and that of certain Girl Guides, to get a ‘Kite’ mark on all advertising where the model has been retouched to make her/him look more attractive and thereby falsifying the image by enhancing in an unreal way; will you also be insisting that all models publically state within their advertising appearances, full details of where they have undergone ‘unreal’ facelifts, Botox and breast implants, bikini waxing, depilatory treatments and anything else that is altered to falsely enhance? If not, why not?

  5. Re. girls self-image: The cause is worthy, the ideas about “airbrushing” are ill-informed and ridiculous. There are many, many ways a photo can be digitally edited or even composed and lit when being taken that can change the appearance of a model. Who decides? Will every photographer and artist and model have to sign declarations regarding how many pixels have been changed? Will models have to lodge “natural” photos of themselves for comparison purposes? There are thousands of photos of male and female models taken every day in the UK – who is going to do the Thought Police legwork on that? I despise the idea that some authority will be asked to dictate what is “real” and “not real”. The whole sub-text is a sinister one and is another example of the shallowness of political thinking and the paranoia of the political class generally when faced with anything like creativity and imagination. I don’t want to live in a miserably proscribed country where life comes with a warning label on everything. You can see exactly what I think of this frankly stupid idea on my blog if you want.

  6. I demand that adverts, showing people of either sex wearing wigs to enhance their appearance, should carry a ‘Kite mark’, unless they are ginger or very obvious!