This Film From Dove Will Make You Cry. You Should Watch It Anyway

The clip, entitled the Cost Of Beauty, has an important message that needs to be shared.

I’m not usually floored by adverts, but Dove’s latest had me sobbing into my cereal this morning.

The video features a girl called Mary. We see footage of her growing up as a child, full of the joys of spring, as she reads books, stars in school plays and generally thrives in childhood.

We watch her growing up via home footage, vibrant with life, before receiving a phone on her 12th birthday. And then things start to change. She starts to change.

We see her scrolling on social media. We bear witness as she becomes more aware of her body and societal expectations to look a certain way.

We see clips of influencers measuring their thigh gaps or exercising. We see shots of weighing scales and footage of a heartbreaking note in her diary that reads, “look at yourself, your gross ugly self”.

Then things take a darker turn as we realise this young girl is struggling with an eating disorder.

Mary's story
Mary's story

The clip – set to a haunting rendition of You Are So Beautiful by Self Esteem – has been shared by Dove along with some findings that seven in 10 young people (ages 10-17) have been exposed to content encouraging weight loss or body transformation on social media.

More than 50% of young people say social media makes them and their peers feel anxious.

The beauty company, via its Dove Self-Esteem Project, is calling for safer social media design with a Campaign for Kids’ Online Safety. And it’s clearly so very needed.

I remember growing up among the first generation to embrace social media as a teen. Back then it was all Bebo, MySpace and MSN Messenger – and while comparison was very real, a lot of what I consumed was directly from my friends. It was all about connection and messaging.

And while I had access to the internet, I had to readily seek out information like diet content or fitness videos (which I don’t really recall doing), rather than having that information thrown straight at my screen – and becoming very much at the mercy of an algorithm.

And it’s a clever algorithm. It knows when you spend time watching one video, you’ll probably want to watch more of the same. If you click on certain posts and engage with them, you can be sure there’ll be more thrown at your feed very soon.

A survey by eating disorders charity Beat found people with lived experience of eating disorders described being “bombarded” with triggering online content, imagery and advertisements which could “fuel” eating disorder thoughts and behaviours.

An excerpt from Mary's diary
An excerpt from Mary's diary

In the US, 80% of young people believe people their age are addicted to social media – that is a huge number.

Three quarters say social media can make young people want to change their appearance, while half of teens aged 14-17 have been exposed to content encouraging restricted eating or disordered eating behaviours.

Dove’s survey also found over half of youth mental health specialists say exposure to harmful beauty content on social media can lead to physical consequences like disordered eating or self-harm.

Beat has unearthed similar findings. Its survey of people with lived experience of eating disorders last year revealed 91% had encountered online content which was harmful in the context of their eating disorder.

In the UK, the introduction of an Online Safety Bill is set make social media companies legally responsible for keeping children and young people safe online.

Social media sites would have to remove illegal material from their platforms, with an emphasis on protecting children from seeing harmful and age-inappropriate content.

If companies break the rules, they’d face fines from Ofcom. But whether it will make a big enough change is yet to be determined.

In the meantime, more young people than ever have been receiving treatment for eating disorders. Almost 10,000 children and young people started treatment between April and December 2021 with record demand for services, according to the NHS – this was up by almost two thirds since before the pandemic.

I have a daughter and the state of social media and its grip on young people, as well as declining mental health among younger generations, terrifies me.

And it’s not just a parenting issue, it’s an everyone issue. Generations of young people deserve better.

Alessandro Manfredi, chief marketing officer for Dove, acknowledges that not all aspects of social media are bad – and, in fact, it can promote creativity and connection for young people.

But he also acknowledges how “data has shown toxic content online is harming the mental health of today’s youth”.

“If there isn’t real change, young people will continue to pay with their wellbeing,” says Manfredi. “We have a responsibility to act and support a safer environment on social media, helping protect young people’s mental health.”

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