‘Be Real is a national movement made up of individuals, schools, businesses, charities and public bodies, who are coming together to campaign to change attitudes to body image.’ They are aiming to create a more accessible, more real vision of beauty.
Now, I am all for this. As a woman and mum to 5 girls, body image is a subject close to my heart. It worries me how much pressure girls are under to look good, to conform to a certain image. An image that is, in reality, completely unattainable for various reasons. Those glossy photos they drool over in magazines that are photo shopped to hell. Then, there’s the often overlooked fact that to a large extent, you are what you’ve got. If your mum and grandma were short with large thighs and an ample bust, then there’s a very good chance that you may be too and there just isn’t a lot you can do about it. It’s very difficult to turn a pear into a banana.
Of course, the point of this campaign is to spread the message that you don’t have to change your body shape to conform. They want kids to see beauty as confidence and are saying that it’s not what you look like, it’s who you are. I applaud this, but they are really up against it with this campaign and without trying to sound as if I’m pissing on a brilliant parade, here’s why:
Parents are our kid’s role models. Kitchen shelves all over the world, are heaving under the weight of low carb diet cook books. At the moment, my Instagram feed is full of photos of shredded veg. Photos of every meal, meticulously prepared under Slim fast rules. Mum wants to lose weight. Nothing wrong with that. Mum is obsessed with losing weight. Every pound lost gives rise to an exuberant shout out in her Facebook news feed. We all know that losing weight is bloody hard work and making the ordeal public helps keep the momentum going. Meanwhile, her daughter is taking all this on board. Her mum’s desperation to change her body shape. Her daughter can see that it’s not about who her mum is: a hard working, amazing person who is always there for her family and who gave birth to wonderful human beings. No, her daughter is seeing through her mum’s eyes that it isn’t, in reality, about who you are, it’s about what you look like. Because ultimately, for many, this does go quite some way to defining who they are.
Then there’s the Social media obsession with make up. Driven at high speed forwards by beauty bloggers, who are telling our impressionable daughters that it is vital to have a different make up brush for each part of your face. Trust me, I know. I know because my daughters are keeping Chinese factories in business.
There are the models who are starving themselves to within an inch of their lives, only to have curves photo shopped on to their bodies. Oh, the irony of it! Meanwhile, our daughters are lapping up the images. Images that are reinforced by celebrities, who further feed the obsession with looks. In a warped kind of way, they make it all seem more real than the photos of models, because their whole business is built around making people connect with them.
We’re telling our daughters that they are, ‘beautiful’. Mums proudly post photos of their daughter on social media and the comments of how ‘pretty’ she is, flood in. Perhaps there’s no harm done. Perhaps we are telling her that looks matter. Almost unwittingly reinforcing that thought.
The ‘Be Real’ campaign is spreading such an admirable message. Dove are one of the supporters of this campaign and they have tried to change attitudes to body image before, using ‘real’ women in their adverts. This served to hi light awareness of the issue of body image in advertising and that is, of course, a good thing. My point is that despite a global conversation being initiated by the campaign, kids continue to be bombarded by unrealistic images. The internet is too vast, self esteem is too fragile, humans are too easily influenced and peer pressure is too great to stop our children, especially girls, ever being completely happy with what they have got.
We really are up against it: from the media and from our own insecurities and inbuilt gender stereotyping. Unfortunately, it isn’t so much, ‘Be Real’ as ‘be realistic’. But we still need to fight it. We must do our best as parents to lay strong foundations from when they are very young. We must try to keep reinforcing the message that it’s not all about their looks and we must continue to encourage them to be active. We must keep on trying to fight what seems like a losing battle and even small victories may count.