According to a parliamentary report published last year, girls as young as five routinely worry about their weight and appearance while more than 50% of the entire UK population is struggling with mental and physical problems as a result of negative body image. The report which was drawn up by MPs and the Central YMCA (the world's biggest young people's charity) acknowledged that the pressure to achieve an unrealistic "body ideal" was an underlying cause of serious health and relationship problems. With self-esteem and progress at work being severely affected, the pressure to look perfect was seen as a significant harm to society. It seems that issues with body image are no longer gender-specific as half of girls and a third of boys aged 14 have gone on a diet to change their body shape. Youngsters were said to be exhibiting their parents' own anxieties.
The main lesson to be learnt from these findings is that the topic of self-esteem and body image is still a crucial one that we need to address in our schools, communities and in society as a whole. When I set up The Red Alert Youth Beauty campaign in 2011, my main goal was to foster a sense of healthy self-esteem amongst the young, particularly young women. We continue to achieve this by raising awareness around the lack of self-esteem amongst youth and supporting initiatives to implement the topic of body image and self-esteem in mainstream education. If we educate young people on topics such as sex and relationships, substance misuse and bullying, then why can't body image and self-esteem fall in line? Lessons and education on body image in schools are essential if we are to instil confidence and raise self-esteem in young people.
Late last year the Central YMCA Qualifications (CYQ) announced plans for a UK qualification in body image. The award (body image and the relationship to well-being) is the first of its kind and will cover topics such as body image in the media, self-esteem, diet and exercise. Starting this year, it is hoped the qualification will be rolled out in secondary schools in the UK, as part of PSHE (personal, social and health education) or free study periods. The initiative - the first of its kind - will also give 11 to 14 year olds the opportunity to gain an award from the Central YMCA Qualifications (CYQ) and is hoped to help children who feel dissatisfied with the way they look. The award may also be undertaken as part of informal education within youth groups.
As a campaign we fully support this initiative and we hope we will continue to see a greater uptake in schemes that aim to educate and support young people in their personal development. We will continue to push efforts further with hope of hosting our first set of empowerment events and workshops, which will hope to unite more young women through creative expression.
We have come a long way in terms of generating awareness about body image and self-esteem issues particularly amongst young women, but still have a long way to go. The Red Alert Youth Beauty Campaign has been set up with the very sole purpose of raising awareness for a call to action. With all the campaigning efforts so far plans for the UK's first qualification on body image is great news and definitely a step in the right direction.
Young people today are constantly faced with the pressure of having to look a certain way to feel good or fit in. It is therefore essential that the exams regulator, Ofqual, take note so these lessons and qualifications can be available to schools from this year onwards. These initiatives and our campaign are crucial if we overcome the battle with body image in society.
For more information on The Red Alert Beauty Campaign visit www.redalertyouthbeauty.com
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