Cover Photo Courtesy of the U.N
Culture 10 April 2017
Women's body confidence. It's a tough issue. There is no simple answer nor resolution to the fact that roughly every second woman in the world has self esteem issues. To counteract this stifling statistic, the U.N, working in conjunction with the Dove Self Esteem Project are hoping to reverse the effects of unrealistic body portrayals by the media, and the scrutiny women are under constantly to maintain a 'shapely' figure.
SWAAY spoke to Stacie June Shelton, Global Head of Education & Advocacy, at the Dove Self-Esteem Project and Amee Chande, Chair of Partnerships and Fund Development Committee, World Board World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) about female empowerment and body image, and why female self image is so skewed throughout the world.
1. Your life is dedicated to empowering women - was it always that way?
Stacie: Girls and women! I am passionate about health and believe that mental and emotional health are largely overlooked by society as critical indicators of a healthy body and being.
My training and work experience are in public health so how to get programs out at scale and focusing on the adolescent age group 10 to 21 as this is critical to setting life habits and making decisions especially around health. To be empowered you first must be healthy and that is what I have worked on for years whether coordinated school health programs in the state of Oregon or rural India helping young people be empowered to make good decisions for life is what I love to do.
I know personally what a challenging age adolescence is and made my own questionable decisions; I want to improve the next generation and learn from my own and create a healthier world. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually across all areas that make up an individual's personal health.
2. How did you get involved with WAGGGS?
Amee: I was a Girl Guide in Canada for many years and it was a big part of my experience as a girl. It gave me experiences and exposure I wouldn't otherwise have had, particularly as it related to the outdoors and global citizenship. Today, I chair the fund development and partnerships committee and sit on the World Board, but it is still the interactions with the girls and young women that keep me motivated.
3. How did you get involved with Dove and the Self-Esteem Project?
Stacie: My background is in public health research, programme development and project management to drive behaviour change with a focus on adolescents and school health. This led to a role in Unilever 6 years ago, as Global Social Mission Program Manager for Lifebuoy soap. Here I led behaviour change programmes across Africa, Asia and Latin America to help encourage proper hygiene practices for school children
Now, as head of education and advocacy for the DSEP, I get to help make a positive impact on the lives of young women and girls everywhere – our goal – and my personal mission – is to help empower the next generation of girls and women to reach their full potential in life. We want beauty to be something women feel confident about, not something that holds them back or gives them anxiety.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project works with parents, teachers, mentors and youth organisations - like the young leaders from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) - using interactive tools and resources which are proven to help drive behaviour change and make a positive impact on body-confidence. It's the largest programme of its kind in the world and to-date, we've positively impacted the lives of 20 million young people across 139 countries. And we've set ourselves the goal of reaching another 20 million by 2020, which is why our partnership with WAGGGS is so important.
4. How beneficial has your presence at the UN been?
Stacie: Body confidence is a serious, global issue and one that disproportionately affects girls. We attended the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women in NYC with our partner World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, to raise awareness about the issue, show what we are doing to provide girls with self-esteem education, and encourage others to get involved with empowering the next generation of potential female leaders. Attended by governments, NGOs and all organisations dedicated to improving girls' – this is a vital platform to call for change.
5. Where do body insecurities arise from mostly in your opinion?
Amee: It is different growing up as a girl today, compared to over 50 years ago. Girls are subjected to numerous pressures, due in part to the internet and the boom of social media.
Did you know that 8 out of 10 girls with low body-esteem will opt out of fundamental life activities, such as engaging with family and loved ones, sharing their opinion, joining a team or club, or even leaving the house if they don't feel good about the way they look [Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report 2016]. Now that's a huge problem. Not just for those girls but for all society.
Stacie: We know that when girls don't feel good about the way they look, they opt out. In fact, 7 in 10 girls with low body-esteem have stopped themselves from speaking up or sharing an opinion, have opted out of demanding school subjects, or have not claimed responsibility for their own good ideas. When young people opt out, society ultimately misses out. This negative impact on the leadership potential of girls and women is profound and something we must all take a role in countering.
6. How can the media help to change the perception of female body image?
Amee: There has to be more diversity across the media – not just in terms of female body image, but in terms of women in leadership roles too. Women and girls need to see their bodies valued for what they can do, not just how they look. Even more importantly, women must be valued for more than just their bodies. Girls need to be shown what they can achieve. That their potential is limitless and that you don't have look a certain way to achieve your dreams.
Education is also important. I'd like to see the media used as platform to open a dialogue about some of the critical issues impacting girls and young women.
7. You mentioned that less than half the world's females have body confidence issues, is that centered more in first world countries? Where do you see that number in 10 years?
Stacie: Body confidence is a global issue. I remember participating in a training session for leaders. The aim of the training was for leaders to learn how to deliver the Free Being Me curriculum so they could go back into their country and share it with others. What stood out for me was the fact that while the definitions of beauty vary globally, the gap between the beauty ideal and reality is equally wide globally.
Looking into the future, I hope the prevalence of females with body confidence issues will decrease. We are working hard to accelerate this change. Free Being Me has had a huge impact across the world. So far, we have reached 3.5 million young people from 125 countries. Dove and WAGGGS has extended its partnership with the reaching at least another 3 million young people by 2020,
Amee: Our latest research, the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report 2016, informed by 10,500 females across 13 countries, found that women's confidence in their bodies is on a steady decline, with low body esteem becoming a unifying challenge shared by women and girls around the world – regardless of age or location. It's effecting the confidence of a whole generation of young women.
Despite rising levels of beauty and appearance anxiety, the findings also showed that more women and girls are fighting back against unrealistic beauty pressures, with 83% of women and 77% of girls who say they want to look their personal best rather than follow someone else's definition of 'beautiful', and 83% of all women and 82% of girls who agree every woman has something about them that is beautiful. It is this positivity that we want to focus on through our work with the Dove Self Esteem Project and all our campaigns. It is important to us that we aren't just raising the issues through research, but being an active participant in creating the change.
8. If you could say one thing to girls & women with body image and self-esteem issues, what would it be?
Stacie: My advice to all girls & women is to stop comparing themselves to others. You are your own unique self and that should be celebrated! This is one of the biggest things you can do to help increase your confidence, have your own voice, and ultimately lead the life you've always wanted.
Amee: I'd say to girls and young women: When you're confident in yourself, you feel empowered to make your own choices in life, make your voice heard and make a difference to your local and global community. Our world needs you, your voice and your passion, so go out there and be confident in who you are.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist