We are living at a time in which our young girls are under more pressure than ever before. Yes, we have a degree of equality at play, and of course we stand upon the shoulders of women who fought and sacrificed for the freedoms we possess today. However, when it comes to the issue of body-image and self-perception it is apparent to me that we are in the midst of a crisis.
I see this pandemic from multiple angles, each of them deeply concerning. Believe it or not, there is a tangible link between the impact of social media, celebrity 'fever' (the two keenest interests of our young), and the pressure they place young girls under and the disturbing increase in relationship violence in British girls as young as 12 years-old.
This constant and regular presence on social networking sites (an estimated 4-hours a day) has put young girls in a virtual panorama; the pressures to achieve the perfect makeup, body, weight are magnified in an arena where selfies, revenge porn and body shaming are the norm.
Social media certainly has its benefits, but it remains a prevalent socio-cultural issue as an underpinning for self-loathing amongst teenage girls. Negative body thoughts dramatically affect behaviour, relationships and self esteem. They also make it very difficult for young girls to appreciate, and nurture their internal selves. When they are so focused on their body, using surgically enhanced celebrities and social media opinion as a barometer they are less able to devote energy to, and strengthen, the other aspects of their identity.
Low self-esteem impacts their decision making process and the ability to make empowered and well-informed choices. There has been the emergence in girls as young as 6-years old dieting; eating disorders in girls as young as 10 years-old. There has been a dramatic increase in girls rushing to have their breasts or derrières enhanced. There is also the terrifying new link between intimidation and violence in teenage relationships and the role of social networking as a weapon of abuse. NSPCC reports were first to identify the scale of abuse in teenage intimate relationships said social networking as a "central mechanism for partners to extend their exploitation and control... to all aspects of young people's lives."
The danger is that pop-culture dictates modern social norms. Unfortunately, our teens now know what celebrities eat, weigh, wear, their sexual exploits and more. I can assure you that much of what they read is well crafted 'spin' designed to increase their exposure and bank account. Yet, modern teens are attempting to emulate negative (and often falsified) role models and in the process they unwittingly fall victim to several different issues. Sadly, these issues include relationship violence as abuse is now starting in the playground.
According to Susie McDonald, director of Tender UK, "You have to look at that whole spectrum to try to tackle this. At one end there is this kind of behaviour and at the other end you have the horror of two women being killed a week by a partner or ex-partner in this country."
Self-esteem has been lowered to such an extent that young girls aren't equipped to identify controlling, intimidating behaviour as abusive until it becomes violent. This is a core factor in the terrifying recent surveys (including Zero Tolerance and End Violence Against Women campaign) which have revealed that approximately 40% of young people are already being subjected to relationship abuse in their teenage years.
These are terrifying truths and many of you will read this and think 'where do I begin?'. I believe we need to avidly equip and empower our young girls. Banning the Internet simply won't cut it. Neither will denial or prudishness; we must engage. I believe this can achieved by initiating open, honest, conversations and debates with our young girls. Let's encourage them to be positively body conscious, let's greet them with open minds and open ears when they share their challenges. We need to be receptive to their standards for themselves so that we can raise them. We need to teach them the biological beauty of their bodies until they realise that body image is subjective.
It is up to us to shift the ways in which our young girls view themselves. We can actively effect the degree to which they embody and absorb negative self-image. Whether we are practitioners, parents, aunties or siblings; it is our concerted investment into boosting their self-esteem and combatting their challenges that will lower statistics and change lives. Now that, is an investment worth making.