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“There is no perfect image”: why we need to learn body confidence in school #UnpickingPerfection

Girls in the UK are in the midst of a body confidence crisis, and the cult of ‘perfection’ isn’t helping. Our guest writer Adeola Gbakinro tells us how we can help change that. 

What is low body confidence? When I was younger I felt like I needed to fit in, I believed there were criteria I needed to meet. If I didn’t fit into those criteria, there was risk of ridicule, or even being bullied. The peer pressure from friends, the ‘ideal’ girl that we thought boys liked – it made me want to be ‘perfect’.

According to the Girls’ Attitudes Survey, published by Girlguiding, 49% of girls aged 11-16 fear people will criticise their body if someone takes their picture. I know all too well how this feels and just what a detrimental and lasting impact it can have on the happiness and mental wellbeing of a young woman. If an individual has a negative perception of their body, perhaps they feel they’re not ‘pretty enough’ or don’t look the ‘right way,’ then hearing one negative comment can increase this x 100.

I can’t help but think that if I’d had a safe place and time in school, to discuss the core issues and importance of positive body confidence, I would not have let the pressure around me sink in. I would have been better prepared to deal with the situations I faced and to challenge them.

In the Girls’ Attitudes Survey  75% of girls aged 11 – 21 told us they believe  women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability and 47% aged 11–21 said the way they look holds them back. One look at the media and you see thousands of airbrushed photos, portraying this ‘perfect’ image of a woman where she fits a particular size and shape, where the person she is and the things she achieves are rarely mentioned. 

It is so easy to compare yourself to everything you see in magazines and on billboards. Recognising that your own body doesn’t look anything like that can make you feel inadequate and it becomes increasingly harder to ‘be yourself.’

As a Girlguiding advocate, I believe this needs changing and the time is now!

Girlguiding is campaigning for compulsory Personal, Social and Health Education and Sex and Relationships Education to include body confidence and healthy relationships. We want girls to be confident in their bodies, from their school years through to adulthood, and we believe education can play a major part in this. By teaching body confidence in schools, girls can learn how to increase their self-esteem and learn how to value themselves.

Girls and young women need to be reassured that there is no perfect image. Their size, shape or height does not define how far they can reach in life.

We need to teach girls that they are awesome whatever their shape and size.

In Girlguiding, through resources such as our Think Resilient and Free Being Me badges, we inspire girls to be confident within themselves. But we know much still needs to be done and we believe it can start in school.

You can help us achieve this by signing the petition here.

Adeola Gbakinro, 20, is a member of the Girlguiding Advocate panel. The Advocate panel is made up of 18 girls and young women aged 14-25 who speak out and call for change.

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Image: Manjit Thapp

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