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Does Our Media Set Girls Up to Fail?

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RIHANNA SEXY
Rihanna/Instagram

The is what one of the school girls I met recently said to me at a focus group about Body image. In my role as Shadow Media Minister I have been speaking with young girls to find out how they feel about pressures from the media.

Body dissatisfaction amongst children in the UK is higher than it has ever been. Around 40% of children under 10 have worried about their weight, and about half of girls and a third of boys have dieted. Girls as young as five are reporting concerns about their body image.

Body image anxiety matters because we know it leads to many problems including depression, eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise which can last a lifetime. Over 1.6 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and 80% of women are unhappy with their body size and feel negatively about the way they look.

A survey by an All Party Parliamentary Group in 2012 confirmed that one of the main reasons body dissatisfaction is so high is because people are bombarded with images of the 'perfect body' in the media. Given that it is estimated that fewer than 5% of the female population could ever reach the image that magazines continuously show us, it is not surprising that a focus on these images is causing increasing anxiety and unhappiness.

I was impressed by the insightfulness of the Year Ten group I met in North London. Many of them understood that the images they saw in magazines were unrealistic and that it was unhealthy for them to strive to attain that image. However they still felt the pressure hard to combat. The majority of them agreed that airbrushing in the media was unhelpful and caused body anxiety, however increasingly their peer group airbrush their own Facebook photos. One attendee commented 'it's become as if natural photos are no longer good enough to go on Facebook'.

They also talked about the diets they had tried and how they often felt concerned and aware of how others saw them. One girl remarked 'the media sets girls up for failure because we can never actually look like that, and we know it. But we still try.'

What also became apparent from my conversations with the girls was that although they were concerned about the pressures they felt from the media to look 'perfect' they were also increasingly concerned by the representation of women in the media as a whole. They reported that the sexualisation of women in the media was putting them in a difficult position in their young relationships with boys and men.

They were most worried about images and lyrics in music videos which glamorised violence against women. And reported that videos like Eminem and Rihanna's 'Love the Way You Lie', in which a women seems increasingly smitten by a violent, aggressive lover, have made boys believe that violence against girls and women is normal and even glamorous.

It gave me pause for thought last week as the Government published the shocking estimate that 85,000 women a year are victims of rape, attempted rape or serious sexual assault in the UK. For the girls that I spoke to, at the tender age of 14, they saw a clear link between the sexualised way the media and music industry portrays women and how they are treated by boys and men in society.

I am now looking into some of the policy ideas that arose from that focus group. The clear labelling of airbrushing in magazines and adverts. And what can be done to protect children from inappropriate lyrics and images.

If you would like to contribute to my body confidence survey you can find it here

Around the Web

Body confidence campaign | Home Office

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APPG on Body Image | - Central YMCA

Body confidence :: Cosmopolitan UK

British Women Lack Body Confidence

Rihanna on body confidence | womensfitness.co.uk

BBC News - Body confidence pack for parents backed by government

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