The Dove self esteem project has launched in New Zealand with the aim to change 18,000 young Kiwis lives. The project provides parents, teachers and mentors with self esteem building programmes. Including ‘Confident me’ which is a resource for teachers to help improve boost self esteem and reduce body image concerns. There’s also ‘Uniquely me’ which is for parents to help improve their daughter’s self esteem and body image. As well as encouraging body image conversations.
We had a chat with Dr. Phillipa Diedrichs who is a research psychologist and associate Professor at the centre of appearance research University of the West of England. Dr. Diedrichs has done a lot of research into how body image can affect girls’ lives.
Why is the Dove self esteem project so important to you?
Body image concerns affect up to 70 per cent of girls and women. Girls are holding back from important life activities like putting up a hand in the classroom, going to the doctor, going to social events because they’re worried about how they look. The Dove self esteem project is important because it’s delivering quality body image education programs in schools, youth groups and online. To address the significant social and public health issue. These programs are based on the latest science and research at the University of the West of England. Along with feedback from the girls and their parents shows they are making a real difference.
What advice do you want to give young women about body confidence?
So much time and energy can be consumed with worrying about how we look and how we don’t match society’s standards for beauty. Focusing on and appreciating the functionality of our bodies, rather than just their appearance can be a powerful way to improve body image.
For example, appreciating how our legs allow us to dance and walk, how our hands help us create art, how our arms allow us to hug our loved ones, or how our eyes allow us to see amazing sights when we travel. Also, if we think about the women we admire and love the most, this rarely has anything to do with how they look. It’s more rewarding and good for our sense of worth to focus on the aspects of our lives that have nothing to do with appearance.
What can parents/people the younger generation look up to do to help the younger generation with their body confidence?
Modelling body confidence through our own behaviour, even when we don’t feel it 100% of the time, is an important way to cultivate healthy body image among our children. Try to avoid making negative comments about your own appearance in front of children. This can send the problematic message that appearance is really important and that being unhappy with the way you look is the norm. This can be challenging because as adults we also face appearance pressures. However, by being kind to yourself you are being kind to your children too. Also avoid focusing too much on your child’s appearance. For example, think about how often young girls are told ‘you look so pretty’ or ‘don’t you look cute today?’. Although this can be well-meaning, it sends the message that appearance is important and this can eventually be damaging to body image and their self-concept.
What are words we say that have an impact that we perhaps don’t know?
Psychologists refer to comments like “you look great, have you lost weight?”, “I feel so fat today”, “She’s too old to be wearing that dress”, or “I wish I looked as good as her” as body talk. Body talk can seem like it’s harmless, or at times even seem complimentary. However, research shows that women only need to hear body talk for 3 minutes before their esteem goes down. Body talk is a subtle way that keeps appearance pressures and beauty standards going. It sends the message that appearance is important and that we are judging ourselves or other’s appearance. Avoiding body talk is a powerful way for us all to reject appearance pressures and to make ourselves and others around us feel more positive towards our bodies.
What are some of the most detrimental impacts body images can have on girls’ lives?
There is over three decades of research showing body image concerns have a negative impact across girls’ lives. This includes their physical and mental health, education aspirations and performance, and their ability to be active contributors to their community. Body image concerns put girls at greater risk for experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, disordered eating, misusing drugs and alcohol, engaging in risky sexual behaviours, and smoking.
It can also impact on their performance at school through difficulty concentrating in class. As well as a reluctance to draw attention to themselves by putting their hand up in the classroom or giving an opinion. We also know that it lowers their confidence to speak up and challenge gender inequality in their communities. It can hold them back from taking up leadership positions. As a result, governments and youth experts see body image as important public health and social issue for girls today.
How big of a role do online media (Instagram, youtube, facebook) play on girls’ lives?
Studies show that increased use of social media is associated with more negative body image. Some activities, like sharing photos and seeking validation in comments and likes, are likely to lead to poor body image. However, new research suggests that social media can also be a force for good. Following accounts that promote body positivity, body diversity, and self-kindness (check out hashtags for bopo or selfcompassion) can give boosts to confidence.
Rather than detoxing your diet, consider detoxing your social media feed by following accounts that make you feel good. Also remember that social media can be a great tool for activism. Tweet or post complaints about companies that promote unrealistic beauty standards. Use your feeds to praise those that show positive representations of women.
What are some things girls can do to create a better mind-set and relationship with their bodies?
Being savvy and thinking critically about media is an important tool to help with body confidence. Girls can learn skills to deconstruct media images. Media literacy helps girls to become aware of the techniques advertisers use to sell products. Also to resist appearance pressures from media. Many of the education programs delivered by the Dove Self Esteem Project in schools and youth groups include content on media literacy.
It’s also important for girls to remember not to compare themselves to other people. As humans we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others to work out where we stand in life. However, we also have a tendency to compare ourselves to others who we think are better off. This creates a trap as we will often fall short in these comparisons. This is particularly problematic when we compare our appearance to models, celebrities and social media influencers. They spend hours prepping for photos and whose images are often digitally retouched. Avoiding comparisons and focusing on their own style and expression is a good way for girls to feel body confident.
“Girls are holding back from important life activities like putting up a hand in the classroom, going to the doctor, going to social events because they’re worried about how they look.”
How would you like to see the media and online role models talking about body image?
As we see the body confidence movement getting bigger, we are seeing lots of social media influencers, brands, and celebrities getting on board. This is really positive, so long as these efforts are genuine and consistent. For example, using the hashtag loveyourself on a video that details an hour-long make-up tutorial with 20 expensive products is not necessarily sending a positive body image message. Nor are fitspiration posts. These often focus on health trends, like ‘clean eating’, that mask disordered eating and exercising behaviors. They use objectifying images of headless active-wear clad bodies that imply that our health can be judged by how flat our stomachs are.
I would like to see more role models who focus on talents, achievements and values. Not self-related or focused on appearance, but show girls and women being powerful agents of positive change in their communities.
What else is important that we should know?
If you’re a parent, teacher, or youth mentor and want to learn more about how to support the girls and women in your life, check out the free resources on the Dove self esteem project website. These programs have been carefully developed by experts in consultation with girls, teachers, and youth mentors. They’re are proven to work.