Why it’s about time we learn to love our bodies

There’s a body image backlash sweeping the UK. Here, Ruth Rogers, founder of Body Gossip, shares her account of why it’s time women reclaim their self-worth.

“Too many women are crippled by low self-esteem and risk not fulfilling their potential in life because they feel ashamed about their appearance,” says Ruth, founder of Body Gossip, a charity she set up in 2006 to empower every body shape

Body Gossip aims to arm women with the necessary tools to celebrate their bodies in all their various shapes, sizes and contours, by encouraging them to share their experiences. The group offers a platform to represent discussions and images of every female body. “We teach a simple message,” says Ruth. “To be the best version of yourself and rock your own brand of gorgeous.”

A report carried out by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov in March this year of 4,505 UK adults (18+) and 1,118  teenagers (aged 13-19) shows how women’s feelings of self-worth are wrapped up in their appearance.

The report, Body Image: How we feel about our bodies highlighted that:

  • One in five UK adults have felt shame because of their body image in the last year
  • Over a third of UK adults have felt anxious or depressed because of concerns about their body image
  • One in five UK adults said images on social media had caused them to worry about their body image

The report also shows the detrimental effects body dissatisfaction has on overall wellbeing, citing an increased ‘likelihood of depressive symptoms and psychological distress’, while positive body image is linked to ‘better overall wellbeing and quality of life.’

In 2019, as barrages of images of the perfect body appear everywhere from Instagram to television and magazines, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the majority of these digitally enhanced images are real. After all, little has been done to represent real women in advertising since the the Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, 13 years ago. The campaign was celebrated for opening up a global discourse about the narrow definitions of female beauty.

The majority of women probably understand that images are Photoshopped by the fashion industry, the media and in advertising, but despite this, many still pursue thinness,” says Dr Helen Driscoll, principal lecturer in psychology at the University of Sunderland.

She adds, “Many images in the media, in advertising and in the fashion industry are of women who are extremely thin, and some women do aspire to these dangerous and often unrealistic ideals.” Though, she says, “These images may be less a cause of female pursuit of thinness and more a reflection of it.”

Is it then any wonder that some women go to extreme lengths to alter their natural bodies to fit an ideal? Body Gossip is a movement that quashes notions of idealised beauty, instead, encouraging women to be confident in their own skin. And, it’s about time, as the effects of negative body image are debilitating as the Mental Health Foundation’s report shows.

Body Gossip seeks to challenge this so-called standardised beauty norm through its various programmes. “In our Performance Project, we bring loads of photo cut-outs of body parts. Loads of photographs of heads, torsos, and legs and invite the students to create perfect bodies out of them. This exercise raises interesting questions around what is the perfect body?” says Ruth. She adds, “Just by inviting them to make it [the perfect body], often the conclusion is that it doesn’t exist.”

Since its launch, the campaign has taken the UK by storm and has featured in the Guardian, The Huffington Post and won a host of awards for its contribution to education by raising self-esteem in teenagers. In 2014, Body Gossip scooped the accolade for education at the government’s Body Confidence Awards held in the House of Commons.

Body Gossip has blazed a campaign trail on the very industry seeking to make a profit from women’s body dissatisfaction.“For years women’s insecurities have been preyed upon by advertising and marketing campaigns, making us feel ugly so we spend money on their products to look (or smell, or feel, or be) more beautiful,” says Ruth. “Also, we’re only in the transition phase of feminism, so gender equality is still in development. I think women still feel a strong need to look great to get ahead.”

She added: “Just watch any TV show with an old male presenter and a young female one to see proof of women being chosen for their youth and beauty over what they have to say for themselves.  Thank goodness there are exceptions, but I do think we’ve still got a way to go – and while we get there, women will be bombarded by images of ‘perfection’ to persuade them they’re not good enough themselves,” she says.

Body Gossip has won the support and admiration of women and celebrities across the country, including Alesha Dixon, Natalie Cassidy and Anne Diamond, many of whom have shared their own stories. These include narratives of self-loathing, ridicule, crippling self-doubt, unhappiness and belittling comments – all for being who they are. Every story highlights the microscopic scrutiny women can endure on a day-to-day basis.

As Dr Helen Driscoll says, “Women’s self-esteem is often very much tied up with how they look. Women naturally evaluate their own physical attractiveness and they do this by comparison to others. Judging oneself as generally less attractive than others can have a very negative impact on self-esteem.

In a world where self-image is contributing to overwhelming negative psychological and physical impacts on women’s wellbeing it’s so refreshing to have women speak out against the industries crippling women’s progress. Look no further than Jameela Jamil, who single-handedly sparked a body positivity revolution with an Instagram selfie. Little did she know posting a photo that listed all of the things she weighs herself by – her personal qualities, friends, relationship and career – rather than a number on a scale, would lead to scores of women echoing Jamil’s thoughts that women are more than their appearance. I Weigh has amassed more than 700,000 Instagram followers since that very first post back in February last year.

With all of the pressures young girls and women (and men) are facing we need campaigns like Body Gossip. We need women like Ruth Rogers and Jameela Jamil to challenge impossible beauty standards. And as Ruth says, “It’s only when we talk about our bodies, and our feelings about them, that we realise that everyone has body concerns.

“I would like to encourage a sense of balance when we look in the mirror, and to encourage thoughts like ‘There are things about my body I don’t like. There are things about my body I really love. And now I’m going to leave the house, knowing I’m rocking my own brand of gorgeous, and get on with my day not being obsessed with my appearance.’” Because when you do, you break free from a prison of insecurity into a world of possibility.

Find out more about Body Gossip

Read the Mental Health Foundation’s full report, here:  Body Image: How we feel about our bodies

Join the I Weigh movement 

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