Women, girls and body image

How’s your body image?

Are you happy with your wobbly bits? At peace with your wonky nose? Or do you cling to the dream that if only you were a few pounds lighter, a little bit taller, that all would be well with the world?

I wish I could say that I didn’t care about body image, that I was totally happy and accepting of my body, but it would be a fib. Like the majority of women, I too hanker after thinner thighs and tighter triceps. Not enough to actually do anything about it of course, but that’s really not the point, as the issue is clearly not a physical one.

The most worrying thing is the increasingly young age at which body image becomes an issue for girls and young women, as I talked about recently. I say recently… I just looked it up and the post I wrote about conversations overheard on a school bus is nearly two years old! Blimey, unnoticed aging clearly an issue for me here.

There has been a trend recently in the media to try and redress the balance, and change the way we feel about our body image, but to be honest I’m a little cynical. Take the Dove Real Beauty campaign for instance. Now perhaps it’s just me, but aren’t all of these women actually rather attractive? Some of them may be larger than traditional models, but none of them are fat, they’re all well proportioned with smooth skin and pretty faces:

Dove models

Not exactly munters are they?

Dove’s latest idea for improving our body image and raising levels of confidence among girls is the Dove Self Esteem Programme, a series of workshops being held in schools throughout the UK, with the aim of reaching a million 11-18 year old girls by the end of 2012. My cynical side says ‘what a great market for them to tap into’ but at the same time I can’t help but think that one million girls feeling even just a little bit better abut themselves has to be a good thing right?

Dove models

Again, not exactly munters…

Worryingly, it really is this young that body image starts to become an issue. Dove found that over half of the girls they surveyed thought they were ‘average’, ‘ordinary’, ‘plain’ or ‘unattractive’, and the stats I found when researching my post on pornography are even more shocking:

  • Over half of all women around the world say they first became aware of the need to be physically attractive between 6 and 17 years of age.
  • 66% of teenage girls would consider plastic surgery and 20% would do it right now.
  • Polls suggest that 63% of young women aspire to be glamour models or lap dancers.
  • One in three people believe a woman is responsible for violence committed against her if she is wearing ‘revealing clothing’.

Have you seen the Dove ad about all the little girls giving up their hobbies because of their body image? It’s pretty scary stuff:

Further research by Dove celebrates the fact that over a third of girls cite their mothers as their role models. Great, you might think, it’s good that girls have someone real to emulate, but then you look down the rest of the list, and it’s the usual suspects – Cheryl Cole, Jessie J, Rhinanna… And we all know how I feel about Rhianna as a role model. Where are the political figures? The writers? The scientists? Why are young girls so focussed on role models famous purely on the basis of their looks?

Which leads me to my key question – do campaigns like the Dove Real Beauty campaign, or their self-esteem workshops really do anything to tackle issues around body image, or is it a much deeper rooted problem? Are programmes like these just a drop in the multi-million pound ocean that is the beauty industry, or are Dove trailblazers, leading the way for others?

Answers on the back of an anti-wrinkle cream box please.

You can visit the Dove facebook page for more information on their initiatives to improve body image among young women.




  1. 25 April, 2012 / 8:43 am

    Changing attitudes is a slow process, and I think that on balance, I’m happy for everyone to do their bit, even if they’re doing it for commercial gain above other motives. Smoking used to be totally acceptable, now you’re a social pariah if you light up – it took years of campaigning, and came about through everything from direct ‘anti-smoking’ ads, to things like directors not showing smokers in films.

    On a personal note, and I know this may sound controversial to some, but I’m not sure I’d want fat role models being pushed onto young people. By all means, accept your body and love your wobbly bits, but being seriously overweight is unhealthy, and I’d rather children were taught to eat properly and maintain a good level of fitness than be given an excuse of ‘Well, XXX is obese and I want to be like her’.

  2. Hilda Hazel Wright
    25 April, 2012 / 8:46 am

    Its too big a problem to be resolved by a Dove campaign. We recently saw an ad in the window of I think it was Ann Summers which had ‘real women’ who had won their competition to be in their ad campaign. The winner was a little chubby, the thinner runner up was far more attractive, you end up thinking that you’re just being cynically ‘sold’ to rather than it being a genuine thing.
    Its a sad thing that most women will spend their young attractive years fretting about it constantly. Then you get older and it starts to be less firm and a little wrinkly and you realise that you weren’t so bad after all!!! Everyone needs to love themselves more. Life is too short.
    We went to a naturist campsite a couple of years ago. The fat people were fat, the thin people were wrinkly. But either way they were all living the dream and happy. Once you learn to let go of all these things you can get on with life and enjoying yourself rather than being wrapped up in your ‘wrapping’!

  3. 25 April, 2012 / 9:45 am

    Interesting post! I’m really lucky that I’ve always had a positive body image – I just happen to like the way I look – I’m about a size 16 so I’m not skinny by any stretch of the imagination. I was really skinny until I was about 12, and I don’t remember my parents mentioning it either way. We didn’t have scales in the house and I don’t now -I have never had any idea how much I weigh, and I like it that way. Interestingly, my sister who is ten years younger has always had a thing about her weight, but when she was little that was when my mum started going to Weightwatchers, so I think what our mums do probably does have a big influence on it.
    Also, I think girls pick those female role models you mention because that’s who they see in magazines and on TV. Can you think of a single female writer that a teenage girl would even know to look at if it’s not JK Rowling? If they know a female scientist at all it’s probably Liz off Bang Goes the Theory – she’s certainly the only female TV scientist that springs to mind.
    I guess that’s inevitable as female writers, scientists and politicians have probably got better things to do than haul themselves round celeb events. The Dove campaign is all well and good in that it’s trying to let everyone know that any body shape is alright, but it’s still focussing on the body – maybe there needs to be more emphasis on the whole person, not just what they look like?

  4. 25 April, 2012 / 10:33 am

    Hilda’s right – it’s a huge issue and it’s not going to be solved any time soon – much like attitudes to smoking, it will take years for our idea of the “ideal” body shape to change to something more healthy.
    I’ve passed my small, slim frame to my children but even at 10 years old I’m worried by my daughter’s occasional references to “getting fat”. In an effort to nip this in the bud, I have shown her photos of skinny female models (all hollow-eyed and jutting hip bones and wan complexions) and then a series of photos of women from my running magazines (slim but strong, toned muscles and a healthy glow to their cheeks). I asked her who she would prefer to look like and thank goodness, she screwed her face up at the models and pointed to the athletes.
    I know that body image isn’t everything and our children need to be taught to value their other qualities too, but show me a teenager that doesn’t care about their looks? That’s not going to change anytime soon. If we can instil the idea that good nutrition and plenty of exercise will produce a more beautiful body than one that’s been starved, it’s a good place to start changing attitudes.

  5. Susan
    25 April, 2012 / 6:21 pm

    The women in that picture are really fat

  6. 25 April, 2012 / 8:12 pm

    It is so scary to think about how young girls view themselves. I really try and like all the parts of myself that pre-Iyla I would have changed because I am responsible for how she will feel about herself in ten years. It’s hard though, some days I feel ugly but I guess that is just something that comes with being a woman unfortunately x

  7. 29 April, 2012 / 8:47 pm

    I think that mums are the most powerful role models. my mum was terrible always telling me I was too fat. So I do my best not to comment on my kids weight or what they eat and think i’m doing a pretty good job so far

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