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Be Body Confident - Beauty Comes in all Shapes and Sizes

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I will never forget seeing a very short but very powerful film featuring a young girl being assailed with hundreds of images of physical perfection. As she stands, overwhelmed by idealised bodies and perfectly constructed faces, the tag line appears on the screen: talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.

The filmmakers are right. But it goes further than daughters. People - men, women and children - are thought to be exposed to more images of physical perfection in one day than a young person one or two generations ago would have seen through their entire adolescence. And the problem goes beyond the beauty industry.

Every day people are confronted with images of the 'perfect' body that just don't reflect the diverse society we live in. These unrealistic images set an impossible standard, potentially damaging self esteem and crushing confidence.

We need to challenge this culture of conformity and widen the definition of beauty to include all ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities. And we need to help people recognise that their value goes beyond just their physical appearance.

I've observed over the years, with growing dismay, how the issue of body confidence has grown in importance.

A Girlguiding UK report last year showed that 55% of young women believe that the pressure to look like a celebrity causes them stress.

Similar findings in a poll carried out by MORI found that 50% of women feel under pressure to look good at all times and 46% of women feel under pressure to lose weight.

And it's not just girls. In a survey conducted by YMCA, one in 10 boys said they would start taking steroids to build muscle if they were unhappy with the way they looked.

I find these figures deeply worrying, and as a government minister it is my responsibility to address them.

That is why I launched the national Body Confidence campaign. My objectives are threefold:

One, I want to see a wider spectrum of body shapes represented in popular culture, to include all ages, all shapes, all sizes and ethnicities. This is something that we need to work with industry to achieve.

Two, I want to make sure people have a more critical understanding of the images they are bombarded with everyday in the media. To do that, we must give individuals the tools to assess what they see critically.

And three, I want more people to recognise that emotional qualities - character and individuality - are equally expressive of beauty as narrow, physical appearance.

Since we launched in November 2010 the campaign has been steadily gathering momentum.
I've convened a group of experts to identify non-legislative solutions to tackle the causes of low levels of body confidence. We're trying to influence industries with the power to affect young people - including sport and fitness, fashion and retail, youth and education, media and advertising, and the beauty sectors.

Last year we worked with Media Smart, a not-for-profit organisation, to launch a teaching pack designed to help children understand the images they see in the media and the impact these can have on their self esteem. I'm excited we'll be launching a similar pack for parents in a few weeks.

We've also created an industry award to recognise best practice in magazines brave enough to tackle the issue in conjunction with the Professional Publishers Association. The award ceremony is in June and I'm keen to find out which magazine wins.

Tremendous work is going on outside government as well. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image has launched an inquiry and is currently interviewing key witnesses to the body image debate. I look forward to seeing the results of this inquiry later in the year.

I'm pleased to announce this is the first of a blog series on body confidence to feature in The Huffington Post every month. Over the course of 2012 you'll be hearing from some of the people doing wonderful work to increase self-esteem now and in future generations.

So, I invite you to check back regularly to find out more about the issue of Body Confidence. In the meantime, have a look at the government's Body Confidence campaign on the Home Office website here.

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