I remember the genuine distress suffered by a teenage friend of ours. Her hair straighteners had broken and we don’t possess such implements. She was actually frightened and anxious at the thought of leaving the house and being seen by her peers with unstraightened, but perfectly tidy, hair. I had to source another set of straighteners before I could get her to school.
That, sadly, is the tip of the iceberg. The pressure on particularly girls to conform to a very narrow standard of beauty, dictated by the likes of Heat magazine and the pornography industry, is excruciating and can lead to eating disorders, depression and anxiety. It was bad enough when I was growing up. I was never going to meet these standards and I felt completely excluded. It only added to the nightmare of my teenage years.
The thing is, really, when it comes down to it, looks don’t matter. When was the world ever saved by depilation and cosmetic surgery? Following fashion should be about being who you are and who you want to be, not conformity. Surely that’s something every liberal can agree on?
Jo Swinson has returned to the theme she started earlier this year – that we need to emphasise to our children that beauty is not the most important thing in life – over at the Huffington Post.
She outlines the problem:
Parents can despair when they hear their seven-year old daughter complaining about feeling fat, or see their teenager struggle with insecurity about her looks. Young girls in particular are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images of beauty – images they can never live up to. This can affect their confidence and self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with appreciating beauty – but our children shouldn’t grow up thinking that’s the most important thing in life.
The images of beauty we see in the media are all pretty much the same – it’s as if there’s only one way of being beautiful. I’d like to see a much broader mix of people in magazines and on TV, to help young people of every size, body shape and skin tone feel that there is a place for them.
She had praise for Beyonce, who had asked for recent pictures not to be retouched:
Bizarrely, beautiful models and celebrities are somehow deemed not quite gorgeous enough and are subject to extreme airbrushing. So three cheers for Beyonce, who asked H&M not to retouch the pictures of her in their latest swimwear campaign, and the others who have taken a stand against this futile practice. Excessively retouched adverts mislead consumers. In 2009 the Advertising Standards Authority banned adverts for an anti-wrinkle cream showing an image of Twiggy with her wrinkles airbrushed away.
And she took a swipe at Page 3, too:
I was pleased to hear that The Sun‘s new editor, David Dinsmore, has asked a group of female executives to “reinvent” Page 3 to make it more relevant to the 21st Century. About time too. I do hope it results in a step in the right direction, though it would be an even stronger message if they realised that the whole concept of semi-naked women being paraded for men’s titillation was stuck in the past.
Challenging these artificial perceptions of what constitutes beauty is the key:
And we need to do more to improve young peoples’ resilience to the images they are subjected to in the media. We need more role models for them to look up to and inspire them to achieve and to challenge their perception of what the world should look like.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings