Written evidence submitted by Mrs Emma Hughes (MISS0001)
The impact of body image on young people can be both positive and negative, but on the whole the ongoing ‘stereotype’ image of slim, made up young people with no obvious ‘faults’ sends an implicit message that all society should be like this. What is even more insidious however, is the subliminal messages many of the social media sites and adverts send out to young people that they are not good enough or not ‘whole’ unless they wear this, eat this, dress like this…..Social media is a huge substitute for face to face role models in todays society and there is no dialogue about right or wrong, good or bad. This creates an ‘invisible’ and dangerous bias towards a ‘perfection’ that does not exist and young people, especially vulnerable young people, can be very susceptible to this. They are desperate to fit in and yet also be individual in some way.
In today’s diverse society where gender roles are widely interpreted and there is a ‘salad bowl’ of individuality (we are all different but work well together) it is important to show young people that the choices they make are individual to them and the choices they make do not have to be one particular type or shape or size. In fact, uniqueness is how society can progress, as everyone has something different to contribute. It is inherent on social media in particular, as the main method of interaction for young people, that images, adverts, all material young peop,e have access to reflect todays societal diversity and celebrate all body types, preferences and choices without prejudice. This should be a compulsory part of the new PHSE curriculum in schools, alongside sex education. There are some companies (Dove in particular) who have done great work in this area and are an important part of the solution.
Celebrities as huge influential role models have a central role to play in promoting diversity and actively supporting a new era of media which seeks to promote individuality and freedom of democratic choice and aggressively rejects any kind of perceived ‘perfection’ or stylised lifestyle. This means being honest about how we look when we first wake up, open about how we have blemishes and an imperfect lifestyle and understanding when we make choices that they are not always going to be positive or right. It also means taking on the large corporations who seek to promote their products and increase their sales at any cost. In doing so, the vulnerable will be better armed to reject advances from unscrupulous and predatory people as they will be more self-confident and able to respect and seek help from safe sources including those who proactively advertise an imperfect world as a positive place to live.
The long term effects of low self esteem which often stem implicitly from the feeling that young people are ‘not good enough’ in some way are multi-facted and are present in many ways during the teenage years when young adults are most vulnerable to external influences whilst establishing their own identities. These are often hidden by young people very successfully (although very obvious to teachers who see these young people daily) and include OCD, eating disorders such as anorexia, self-harming, extreme anxiety, panic attacks and other potential severely life-limiting mental health issues. It is important to mention that these issues are complex and there is often a range of ‘stressors’ that are in play including pressure to do well in school, to ‘comply’ with adults and to conform with other social norms. They may be present in a young person at low levels during this time and manifest themselves fully at a later date, especially if the media carries on projecting a false sense of perfection across a wide range of topics which effectively ‘brainwashes’ them as a form of propaganda.
In addition to pro-actively promoting diversity and tolerance, the ASA must do more to involve young people in policing and marketing as these are the drivers of change and those best placed to articulate their thoughts and feelings and work out parameters and possible solutions. This should be ongoing – we have a youth parliament and more powers need to be given to young people to give evidence such as this and to help shape new laws and legislation that supports their needs and helps promote a healthy lifestyle and raises self-esteem in the process. Where is the diversity that is needed at the top to give everyone in our society a voice? The ASA can only be successful if it involves those people it wishes to protect in the decision-making process.