Can self-esteem lessons save us from our body image demons?

Kim Hookem-Smith

More than half of the British public is suffering from some level of negative body image, according to a major report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image. The findings show children are beginning to feel the pressure to look a certain way from as young as five.

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The report has laid the majority of the blame at the door of the media, advertisers and celebrity culture, claiming that the ideal body represented by these sectors is considered unachievable by 95 per cent of the population.

“It’s clear that there is something seriously wrong in society when children as young as five are worrying about their appearance, based on the messages they are seeing all around them,” said Rosi Prescott, CEO of charity Central YMCA, which co-authored the report.

The charity is planning a major campaign to begin a change in society’s attitudes and reverse this destructive trend we have developed in our national psyche.

 “It’s going to take a generation to reverse this trend,” Prescott told Y! Lifestyle. “These attitudes are so ingrained in us, in parents, in young children, that it’s going to be difficult to undo them.”

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The report has several recommendations, including teaching ‘self-esteem lessons’ in both primary and secondary schools, working with health visitors and the Royal College of Midwives to respond to women’s concerns over body changes caused by pregnancy, and rethinking the ethical codes for print, online and television media.

But will these recommendations work? There are concerns that judging celebrities, other people and ourselves has increasingly become such a normal part of life that undoing the damage could be nigh-on impossible. Reality TV programmes such as ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ and ‘Made In Chelsea’ thrive on the judgment of the characters by the audience. The characters on the shows then tend to be represented by the media in terms of their appearance and how they feel about it. It’s small wonder we can’t help judging ourselves by the same yardstick.

“There is plenty of evidence to suggest it has got progressively worse over time,” agrees Prescott.  “We’re living in an appearance-saturated society and the age young people are beginning to feel dissatisfied is younger than ever before.

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“The campaign we’re launching plans to be wide reaching and involve different groups, businesses and individuals all aiming at the same thing. It’s going to be tough but you’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve acknowledge there’s a problem and we can’t just leave it and let it get worse.”

Do you think society’s attitudes can be changed or are our problems with body image too ingrained in our psychology?