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.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.