Tackle the body image myth, not your body

Former advocate Pippa shares her thoughts on body image and what’s needed to tackle appearance pressures

26 January 2022

At the end of my term on Girlguiding’s advocate panel, it feels important to write about body image.

Over these past three years on the panel, I’ve become more aware of the widespread and harmful misrepresentation of girls’ and young women’s bodies and the relentless appearance pressures we face. And with increased time online during the pandemic, the issue has only become worse. By speaking out on this issue, I’ve improved my own relationship with my body, as well as helping others to do the same.

94% of girls and young women aged 11-21 think more should be done to protect young people from body image pressures online. - Girls' Attitude Survey 2021

Different body types not being represented in society is draining, harmful and constant. When I was 9, I remember reading a magazine filled with all my favourite celebrities, and turning to an image of Ashley Tisdale posing on a chair. I thought ‘my thighs don’t look like that when I sit on a chair’. It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I realised – neither do Ashley’s – because images of celebrities or influencers are often edited.

I’m not alone in this experience. Girlguiding’s latest Girls’ Attitudes Survey showed that 40% of girls aged 11-16 and 50% of girls 17-21 have seen images online in the last year that made them feel insecure of less confident about themselves.

Photoshopping is just one of the issues. It can be hard shopping online for clothes and not knowing how something would fit you because you don’t look like the model wearing them. Instagram is filled with promotions of diet products, especially after Christmas. There are articles promoting a ‘£2 scrub that will instantly remove your stretch marks!’. I have a good relationship with my body, but even still I find myself clicking through to find out more.

The 2017 Girls’ Attitudes Survey showed that 95% of girls aged 11-21 wanted the advertising industry to show more positive, diverse representation of girls and young women, and 88% want adverts to be labelled when they have been airbrushed. The Advertising Standards Authority have recently banned cosmetic procedure adverts aimed at under 18s, and they’ve consulted with stakeholders on the impact of advertising on body image, which Girlguiding took part in.  

Whilst I’m not alone in wanting to share my thanks for these changes, there is still more to do. Dr Luke Evans (MP for Bosworth) has recently launched a campaign, including a petition, calling for digitally altered images to be labelled with a disclaimer as they don’t represent reality and can have an impact on how we view ourselves.

Girlguiding is a great place to start tackling body image, and since joining the Advocate panel I’ve been able to take up opportunities around this. For example, I wrote about the impact of  #ShoulderGate when previous MP Tracy Brabin wore an off-the-shoulder dress in the House of Commons. Work over the last few years has also promoted body confidence and awareness of harmful representation in the media for our young members.

Peer Education programmes, interest badges and skills builders all play a key part in ensuring volunteers and members are supported to explore these concepts safely. I’m excited to see Girlguiding and the advocates continue to work on body image, and a future where girls and young women don’t feel pressured to change their appearance.

As individuals, there’s much we can do to improve things for ourselves and others. We have been living in a world that judges by appearance, and it’s time we actively challenge these thoughts in ourselves.  It’s time to stop telling people not to compare their bodies to others – but show them how to love and recognise the value of their own.

When I compared my thighs to Ashley Tisdale, I did not think that these are the legs that would carry me around a 12 kilometre warrior mud race, dance with my best friends and chase my family down ski slopes.

Our bodies are amazing. They deserve to be seen and celebrated.