This article is written by Liam Preston. Liam works for YMCA England where he is responsible for the YMCA's parliamentary and public affairs. Within this role he is a spokesperson and advocate for the Be Real Campaign for body confidence, as well as an organiser for the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Body Image and Youth Affairs.
The most talked about aspect of body confidence is predominantly how it affects adult women. Looking at the majority of tweets into the @BeReal_Campaign twitter account and again it revolves around female body confidence issues.
In previous blogs I have discussed the growing number of men who suffer with body confidence issues. However, a common understanding about body confidence concerns - be they with men or women - is that they do not happen overnight but are fostered and fester over a period of time. For some people, they can even begin during childhood.
During 2014/15 NSPCC’s ChildLine carried out 35,244 counselling sessions to children where their main concern was low self-esteem or unhappiness - an increase of 9% on the previous year. This was the second biggest concern among young people in the UK and highlights just how important tackling this issue is.
Delving deeper into the figures, we can see that self-esteem issues were the specific concern of 12% of the sessions, a lack of self-confidence 11% and body image was the specific concern in 2,245 counselling sessions with children.
These are worrying findings and reflect the conversations that the Be Real Campaign has been having with young people. We know from our own research that girls as young as five are worried about the way they look and their size and one third of young boys aged 8-12 diet to lose weight. It is for this reason that the campaign is focussing one strand of its work by tackling the issue of body confidence at schools.
We know that pressure on schools to deliver activities outside of the curriculum continues to grow and so the campaign has collated a range of materials to help teachers deliver sessions in the classroom. However, if we are truly to shape young people’s body confidence, parents have to be engaged as well.
Having two young children myself and working on this issue, I am often reflecting on whether I am contributing to their body confidence – be that negatively or positively. Do I focus too much on calling them ‘beautiful’ or filtering our family photos? Am I too concerned about making sure they look their best when they go out and choosing what their style is rather than letting them decide their own? And am I doing enough to forget the bad habits that research keeps telling me contribute to their esteem?
All of these questions are ones that will only answer themselves over time but I am more conscious about body confidence as an issue. The ChildLine statistics are a reminder that while young people may not talk to their parents about their concerns; thousands of them are seeking help by contacting other support services.
If you think your child may want to discuss their body confidence or if you want to have a greater understanding of how the words we use and choices we make influence young people’s self-esteem, please check out Dove's resources.
Likewise, if anyone has any examples or resources they want to share please post them in the comments box below so we can start a conversation that helps our young people start conversations of their own.
If you would like to learn more about the Be Real Campaign and how you can get involved please contacts us.