Let me say that I tend to avoid gossip mags and tabloids these days. In my teens and well into my twenties, I couldn’t get enough. My friends and I would scour the pages of ‘Heat’ and ‘OK’ and ‘Closer,’ fervently discussing cellulite marks on the legs of supermodels, potential marriage splits, affairs and heartbreak and of course, weight gain and weight loss.
Even in my thirties, my need to procrastinate on a weekend rather than mark school work led me to download the ‘Daily Mail’ app. The articles were garbage…smelly, rotten garbage. ‘Woman who was in a pop group ten years ago gets out of pool in a bikini’ seemed to be headline news, along with, ‘Actress looks too skinny’ right above ‘Pop Star lets herself go,’ complete of course with pictures of some gorgeous, slim celeb, taken from a bad angle, on a bad hair day as she tucks into a hefty chicken salad (and maybe even a milkshake – “A full-fat milkshake? She’s REALLY let herself go!”) Full disclosure: my love-hate relationship with these articles and the comment section below soon grew into a procrastination obsession and I was forced to delete. Dark times indeed.
So when I woke up this morning to see that Jennifer Aniston had penned a blog in response to all the body-shaming and constant speculation that she’s pregnant, I thought it was worthy of a blog post.See Jen’s original post here…
We need people in the public eye to speak out against the ridiculous body-shaming and unattainable, unrealistic expectations of appearance. Our young people need role models that are more than just a perfect pout, a plump arse or a skinny waist. They need people that show courage; people with tireless determination; dare I say, people with talent?!
With the rise of social media and ‘selfie culture’, combined with increasingly ‘naked’ music videos, magazine covers and tweets, it’s no wonder that our children are developing body issues from a young age. In my first year of Primary teaching – my year 4 class were 8 to 9 years old – I couldn’t believe that half of the girls talked about being on diets, while telling me that when they grew up, they wanted to be like the girls on ‘TOWIE.’
Of course, teenage girls and boys will always have plenty of days where they feel surrounded by Brad and Angelinas, while they’re working the ‘Worzel Gummidge chic’: its called puberty kids – get used to it! Nevertheless, I don’t think we can argue that the sheer amount of exposure to these stories, images and body-shaming, with many children tapping away on their Smartphone from morning through to night, is worsening the problem.
As educators, we can join the likes of Jennifer Aniston, simply by talking about these issues with our students. As a form teacher, I frequently reminded my students that what they see isn’t always what it seems; that happiness isn’t a direct result of your waist measurements; that while it’s fine to put effort into your appearance, it doesn’t define you. At the same time, I expose them to positive role models: Nick Vujicic, an unstoppable force of positivity despite being born without arms or legs; Will Smith, who frequently describes how his immense work ethic rather than talent, led to incredible success; Olympic gold-medallist and Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who keenly promotes a healthy, fit and strong body image for women in direct contract to the non-sporting size zero women in the media.
We’re never going to be able to completely eradicate the episodes of low self-esteem and teenage angst that hormones bring, but a little damage control could go a long way…