The past two years at the helm of the Campaign for Body Confidence has been bit of a rollercoaster. Along with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, we've fought to begin to change our looks-obsessed culture and different campaign members have achieved success in their fields. We've started a debate about retouching in the media through high-profile complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority resulting in several adverts being banned for misleading consumers. Last year All Walks Beyond the Catwalk launched a Centre for Diversity to embed diversity within the syllabus for fashion students and the Central YMCA sponsored groundbreaking research along with the Succeed Foundation into how idealised imagery is affecting men. Girlguiding UK presented a petition to the Prime Minister asking for compulsory labelling of airbrushed images and AnyBody has been campaigning in this country and beyond, with conferences last year in London, New York, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Melbourne.
But those successes are swimming against the current of the tidal wave of idealised images that we see daily. It's hard to escape advertising, and nowadays it's simple and inexpensive to digitally manipulate pictures. We see so many videos, photos and images that all portray the same unattainable body "ideal", despite the fact that these pictures are often heavily retouched. The message is that there is only one narrow standard of beauty to aspire to and body confidence becomes very tied to self-esteem. Not many of us could name the last time we saw an image where the models and celebrities weren't digitally manipulated and altered to look taller, lighter, and ultra-thin.
Ultimately everyone who produces images should think twice about the visuals they're putting out there and what a lack of diversity and excessively retouched images do to us all us a society. Just because you can keep altering an image, doesn't mean you should. There is a point where we need to say stop. Different people will draw the line in different places, and for different audiences. The bottom line is that people want a bit more authenticity and honesty in advertising.
It's too easy to simply blame the media though. We are all so fixated on appearances. Every day so many of us perpetuate negative messages - when we say to a friend "You look great, have you lost weight?" or look in the mirror and find fault with ourselves. We need less criticism and more celebration of the beauty that comes from diversity in body shape, skin colour, size and age. We need to give ourselves a break and be a bit more positive. We need to help young people develop the skills to fight this pressure that we're all under.
So what's next for the campaign?
We're currently planning a retailer roundtable on diversity and retouching to deepen the debate on the use and prevalence of retouching and the lack of diversity - whether shape, age or colour - in the media. We want to get all sides talking to come to a shared idea of what responsible retouching and real diversity looks like.
We're still basking in the positive energy created by the first ever Body Confidence Awards presented in association with bareMinerals that were held in April. The awards were presented during an electric celebration of the winners' inspirational and deserving efforts to promote body confidence, diversity and the acceptance of broader beauty ideals. All who were there agreed it was a game-changing event where key influencers came together to share their passion for change.
At the end of last month, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image published the report into the causes and consequences of body image anxiety. After three months of evidence sessions with members of different industries and hundreds of responses from the public the authoritative report outlined dozens of recommendations, from evidence-based body image education in schools to action from fashion retailers and tighter controls on cosmetic surgery adverts.
We'll keep pushing the issue at various levels but there's something that each and every one of you reading this article can do. Spend time focusing on the things that make people truly beautiful; qualities like kindness, integrity, humility and humour. Give yourself a break and resolve with friends, families and colleagues to challenge the default setting of self-criticism, and help each other to do so. And join the campaign at www.bodyimage.org.uk
Follow Jo Swinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joswinson