Body anxiety is a growing issue. The number of people who aren't confident in the way they look is rising faster than ever, and the age at which these concerns are first felt is getting younger -- a survey conducted in October found that 38% of girls ages seven-to-ten felt that the most important thing to them is the way they look.
But let's not pretend this is a female-only issue: body anxiety is an equal problem for men, and Ed Watson, global communications director at British shopping group N Brown, believes 21st century culture is to blame.
"Reality TV and social media and the 'Kardashian curse' is having a negative impact on how people feel," Watson said while speaking at the Body Confidence Event in London last month. "Our nation is in the middle of a crisis of confidence...as a retailer and an advertiser we owe our customers the honesty of showing them realistic, but aspirational images of themselves."
Watson is absolutely right. With users only posting the images they want others to see, social media distorts our perception of the world and leads us to think that we need to match these unrealistically high standards. This then throws us into a whirlpool of self-doubt, not only about the shapes of our own bodies but about our social lives, career aspirations and more.
The problem goes further than TV and the internet. Advertisers, media owners and fashion brands have also played a considerable role in pandering to the idea of the 'perfect body'.
Walk down any high street today and you'll see posters of unrealistically slim models in many of the shop windows; a constant reminder of how society thinks we should look. And who can forget that insulting advertising campaign from Protein World, which featured a skinny, bikini-clad woman next to the phrase 'ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?'.
This is wrong, and it has to change. There's no such thing as the 'ideal body' -- it's simply the body that you feel comfortable in.
Thankfully, some retailers are already using their influence to make a difference. Earlier this year, Nike was praised for eschewing its usual athletic models for two plus-size models for its #Brahaus campaign, and Dove's Real Beauty campaign featured a variety of different-sized women, proving that true beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Media companies, advertisers and brands -- both online and on the high street -- should consider it their moral duty to help alter the public's perception of how we should look. Too many of us are unnecessarily anxious about our bodies, but I'm confident that, thanks to the likes of Nike, Dove and many others, we're at the start of a major turning point.