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Our Children Shouldn't Grow Up Thinking Looks Are the Most Important Thing in Life

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Parents can despair when they hear their seven-year old daughter complaining about feeling fat, or see their teenager struggle with insecurity about her looks. Young girls in particular are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images of beauty - images they can never live up to. This can affect their confidence and self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with appreciating beauty - but our children shouldn't grow up thinking that's the most important thing in life.

The images of beauty we see in the media are all pretty much the same - it's as if there's only one way of being beautiful. I'd like to see a much broader mix of people in magazines and on TV, to help young people of every size, body shape and skin tone feel that there is a place for them.

Bizarrely, beautiful models and celebrities are somehow deemed not quite gorgeous enough and are subject to extreme airbrushing. So three cheers for Beyonce, who asked H&M not to retouch the pictures of her in their latest swimwear campaign, and the others who have taken a stand against this futile practice. Excessively retouched adverts mislead consumers. In 2009 the Advertising Standards Authority banned adverts for an anti-wrinkle cream showing an image of Twiggy with her wrinkles airbrushed away.

We know media images can be damaging to children. Primary school children of perfectly healthy weight are now dieting and dropping out of sports because they feel self-conscious. Parents are really worried about this. That's why we published online packs for teachers and parents to help them talk to children about how adverts are made - and to show them how in real life, even models don't look like models. You can download these materials for free at mediasmart.org.uk.

Lots of people share these concerns - research shows nine out of ten adults would like to see a broader range of body shapes in advertising and the media. Half of women say they feel under pressure to look good at all times. Three quarters of young girls feel strongly that too much attention is paid to the way female celebrities look.

That's why the government's Body Confidence Campaign has been pushing for change since 2010. I've been impressed at how many people from the retail, fashion, advertising and media industries have already listened to our concerns.

Given the concerns young girls express about the pressure to look attractive, the last thing they need is national newspapers reinforcing the message that they will be judged on their looks. So I was pleased to hear that The Sun's new editor, David Dinsmore, has asked a group of female executives to "reinvent" Page 3 to make it more relevant to the 21st Century. About time too. I do hope it results in a step in the right direction, though it would be an even stronger message if they realised that the whole concept of semi-naked women being paraded for men's titillation was stuck in the past.

We still have a long way to go but we are making progress and I am looking forward a number of new projects for the campaign over the coming year. In particular, I think we need to do more to develop and broaden girls' aspirations before the start of their working lives so we can make the most of everything they have to offer.

We have already announced a series of key actions in response to the Women's Business Council report to help drive the ambition and aspirations of young people. In the autumn we will publish a detailed action plan that will set out how we intend to do this.

And we need to do more to improve young peoples' resilience to the images they are subjected to in the media. We need more role models for them to look up to and inspire them to achieve and to challenge their perception of what the world should look like.

Girls are under more pressure now than ever. They shouldn't constantly feel the need to measure up to a very narrow range of digitally manipulated or cosmetically-engineered shapes and sizes. I'm not against celebrating beauty, far from it, but I am against young girls thinking they can't achieve their goals and dreams in life because they don't look a certain way. None of us want that for our children: I certainly don't, and I will continue to campaign to stop it.

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