Someone that I grew up with recently unearthed a photo of me at 11 years old as she was packing to move, and when she shared it with me, my heart stopped. It stopped because I remembered. I remember how it felt to be the fat friend. I remember how it felt, at 11 years old, to be afraid to run around with my friends. I remember how it felt to not climb on rocks, or be able to join in with games through sheer fear that I'd be judged, not only that, but because I'd been told that fat people couldn't accomplish the things that they'd set their minds to. I always long to look like the girls in the magazines or the girls in school. I wanted to be someone slimmer, it didn't matter if they were a bad, mean, horrible person, because in my eyes the only thing that society cared about aesthetic value - beauty meant success.
Low self-esteem is something that blights many people's lives from a young age. I bet, looking back, there are many dark spots in your life where you came to blows with low self-esteem? I'd like to say that since I was a teenager, experiences of self-confidence in young adults have marginally improved, but in this image-obsessed world that we live in, I'd be lying. It is so significant that we find a way to break through preconceived ideals about beauty, I have battled long and hard with self-esteem issues and having emerged from my journey stronger and better informed, I can safely say that I am in a much better body-loving position than I was 10 years ago. Now I know that these ideologies that I held on to are fake. They are created by a wider society that is changeable, you just need to find the strength to challenge it - familiarity breeds contempt, and the more familiar I became with societies ideas about beauty, the more I detested them.
However, not everyone is in the same position that I am. As the digital revolution has exploded, young people are constantly seeking out ways to be more; they flavour their lives with social media, with likes, reposts, comments and social popularity. But this social contest to be the best isn't without its hindrances. The constant pressure to succeed often breeds low self-esteem amongst young adults, mostly with relation to beauty - if you are not a social butterfly, then you are reduced to nothing of importance amongst your peers. The 2015 Bullying Survey states that "43% of young people have been bullied, 44% of which are bullied at least once a week" with "appearance [being] cited as the number one aggressor of bullying, with 51% saying they were bullied because of attitudes towards how they look." With these statistics in mind, it's no wonder that young adults are feeling the burden of their own self-esteem.
It is imperative that self-confidence issues among young people are tackled head-on. This habitual display of self-hate caused by society is one of the reasons that I put myself out there every day on social media - the culture that we live in can be so toxic if it isn't challenged. I no longer want young men and women to be persecuted for not being society's idea of 'perfect'. It is also why I support ground-breaking campaigns such as Dove's Self-Esteem Project. Pioneered in 2004, their mission is simple: "we have a vision of a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. We are on a mission to help the next generation of women develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential". This is the kind of body talk that needs to be happening, not the conversations that the aesthetic-obsessed media pushes upon young people to be slimmer, to be more beautiful, to fit the mould.
The inability that young women feel to live comfortably in their own bodies is astounding. Dove reports that "Australian girls say that body image is one of their top three worries in life. 1 in 3 six-year-olds in Japan experiences low body confidence. 81% of 10-year-old girls in the U.S. are afraid of being fat. And more than 110,000 girls in Brazil underwent cosmetic surgery in 2009". Just let those statistics sink in for a moment - but remember, these aren't just statistics, these are real young women with real body issues. If body confidence doesn't improve with this generation, then the never-ending fight that people face with their bodies and the negative relationships that they have with them will become all consuming for the generations that follow. With only 11% of girls globally calling themselves beautiful, you can see why projects such as Dove's are so important - this is why I document my body positive journey so publicly, because if I can stop one person from hurting themselves, from becoming mentally distraught, if I can reach out and make someone realise that they are worthy, then my job is done. Young people need to realise that they can be their OWN kind of perfect, they can set their own body ideals and trust me, once you've got them set in your mind, there's no stopping you.
This article first appeared on Fran's blog here.