THE BLOG

Why Low Confidence at School Can Become a Lifetime of Insecurities

29/03/2015 19:31 | Updated 29 May 2015

I used to love games as a kid, egg and spoon races, Brownie badges, running without caring what I looked like, a bit like Phoebe in Friends. But ballet was my thing, the grace, the discipline the shows.

Then puberty happened and it all came to a grinding halt. I got bumps in all sorts of weird places and at the same time the fun was taken out of sport. It went from a carefree game to hardcore competitiveness. Fierce girls with mouth guards charged around the lacrosse pitch leaving me feeling useless on the sidelines. As I wasn't very tall I also got left till last when choosing teams in netball.

So my relationship with fitness ended and was only resumed ten years later when someone at my first job cajoled me into doing a circuits class. I haven't looked back since.

I was lucky. I was naturally slim. But for other girls the combination of pressure to look perfect and fear of taking part must be hugely crushing. Dove's self-esteem project research reveals that 6 out of 10 teen girls withdraw from activities - whether avoiding raising your hand in class to giving up a favourite hobby.

It's also a whole lot worse for girls, who are judged mercilessly if their thighs are wobbly when they jog or a smidgen of pubic hair is visible under their swimming costume. Boys are hardly ever critiqued for being muddy, hairy or chunky. If anything a thickset rugby guy or feisty boxer is an object of desire. ‎They make them manly.

‎We then ask ourselves why there is obesity? Why women pass down their insecurities to their daughters? Why they obsessively fattalk?

‎We have created a self-esteem vicious circle. Schools don't nurture hobbies and passions that make teens feel worthwhile when their natural confidence is plummeting. It is these very activities - and not just hardcore sport, chess, golf, zumba, violin, that construct enduring self-belief. ‎Instead they are ditched for instagram, selfies and thigh gap comparisons. Yet in giving them up girls are much more likely to gain weight, 'feel' fat and use fake benchmarks - boobs skin teeth hair - to measure themselves.

Schools have every opportunity to reverse this trend, in PsHe as well as in general curriculum. There should be confidence building sessions, in addition to a wide variety of non academic options.

It doesn't stop there, instead of treating the cause of obesity, often low esteem as is the diametric opposite of anorexia, they would rather dish out gastric bands. Sport by this stage seems a distant and scary memory. The enormity of stepping back out there in a pair of trainers is too much to bear. Sport England has done a great job to challenge the misconceptions - that exercise is just for fit good-looking people but will it actually get them to change their entrenched habits? I haven't been to the gym for years why bother now?

It all needs to happen earlier, at that pivota‎l point, of 11-12 when girls transition to adolescence and their view of themselves and the world changes with it. We parents schools role models need to be there for them right then, motivating them to enter the guides or play a new instrument. Instead the focus is on periods and sex education. All that is important too but the emphasis is all wrong. Puberty should be exactly what it means in growing up, reaching adulthood, becoming something even more incredible rather than a diminishment.

It has to change for women have never disliked themselves ‎as much as today.

A quarter of women won't go on a beach holiday as they hate their body, three quarters have nothing good to say about their looks and a whopping 90% think they are judged more by their looks than their abilities.

Surely we are in an enlightened age when women are more empowered and liberated from sexist shackles than ever? Yet when you hear about women not wanting to be seen running so put a treadmill in their shed or turning the light off so their partners don't see them naked or wearing a corset to make them look thin (and hurting their organs) it is questionable‎ whether we are in the 21st or Victorian century.

Rather than argue about whether to take part in debates or backstabbing their opponents this election should be focusing on the real issues at stake. Obesity, depression, eating disorders stem in later life originate from a largely Victorian based school system, that is failing teens. Suicides from cyberbullying, self-harm, sex addiction amongst others are all the extreme realities, and for many it is the feeling that you're ugly, fat, a loser. I was that girl, and I am now finally doing what I love writing, running and dancing. But for many years I missed out on so much because a little voice from the past, from an old PE teacher told me 'O Elizabeth you didn't drop the ball again!'.