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.