Teenage Girls, Self Esteem and Body Confidence

Both teengirl and I learned a couple of amazing things on Friday, things I know we’ll both cherish forever, things that may even change our lives.

We went along to a Dove Self Esteem Project workshop.  The workshops are aimed at addressing low body confidence in teenage girls and the impact it has on their lives.

I wasn’t sure if I was meant to actually take part, but as I sat down at a table at the front of the room with teengirl, I decided rather than to just watch that I would take part.

Together with about 20 teenage girls I faced Caroline Brown, our workshop leader, willing her to fix every teen’s self-esteem issues.

But it turned out it isn’t just teenage girls who question the value of their bodies, who look at themselves and find themselves wanting.

We watched a 30 second video of a model being transformed from regular girl to front page supermodel.  In hyper-sped up mode she got her make up done, her hair perfected, she was photographed and photo shopped to within an inch of her life.

We all watched goggle eyed as her head was raised a good two inches and her neck stretched (by Photoshop) to make her look more elegant.

And we all let out a huge sigh of relief.

One girl said: “It made me feel good to see that that model doesn’t look like that naturally.”

And I wanted to shout to every single teenage girl in that room: “It’s not just girls your age that feel inadequate when faced with media images of unrealistic unattainable perfection.

“Pay attention, listen to what’s being said right now so that when you’re my age (42 in case you’re wondering) you can look at them and really know they’re not real.  So that when you’re my age you can look at these and know you don’t have to compete with them or compare yourself to them because you know you are beautiful as you are.”

I also, I have to admit, wanted just one of these girls to say: “What the media is ramming down our throats is unacceptable.  What can we do to force the media to inform us when an image has been manipulated beyond recognition?  Or what can we do to stop the media making their models and famous people unnaturally & unachievably perfect?”

None of them did.  But that didn’t surprise me because this mega-photo shopped unrealistic beauty is normal to them; it’s what they’re used to.  It’s not yet unacceptable to them.  It’s their own bodies that are acceptable to them.

“It’s common for young girls to feel self-conscious about their looks, especially when they’re talking about body shape and weight.  Most of the pictures we see tell us that there’s only one body shape that’s beautiful, but that’s not true.  We need to remind ourselves that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes” reads the front page of the workbook provided by Dove.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will break my heart

Words are powerful.  Whether they are words other people say to us or the words our inner dialogue bombards us with.  Whether they’re true or not, the horrible words sink in, they stay with us.

The workbooks that stared up at us from the tables forced us to look at ourselves and find great words to describe ourselves.

In answer to: a) “I am unique in many ways.  These include…” mine said:

I’m an optimist.  I like change.  I chase my dreams hard.  I like to write.

In answer to b) “3 Things I Enjoy Doing:” I wrote:

Writing.  Travelling.  Dancing around the house like a maniac.

In response to c) “3 Things I’m good at” mine said:

Writing.  Photography.  Business.

Teengirl’s responses to the same questions were:

a) I can only see through one eye.  I do what I want to do.  I chase my goals. I have strange hands

b) Art.  Music.

c) Art. Drumming

Sadly, she could only find two things she enjoyed doing or was good at and struggled to find what made her unique…

Life Changing

The second stage of this made such an impact on both teengirl and I that I don’t think we’ll ever forget it.

We had two unfinished sentences to complete about the person sitting next to us.  For us that meant each other.

I learned that my daughter likes that I am ambitious, that I go for what I want and that I don’t let anyone stop me.

I also learned that she thinks the way I quickly come up with ideas and develop them is really special and unique.

For just two minutes I saw myself through my teenage daughter’s eyes and it was incredible.   And I have to admit to you I had a couple of tears in my eyes as I read the amazingly powerful positive words she’d written about me.

Teengirl learned that I like her fearlessness.  And I think her strength is special and unique.

“I’d no idea you thought I was brave and strong,” she said to me.  “That’s amazing to know that.  Every girl should know what their mum thinks is special and unique about them.”

She says she’s going to put my unfinished sentences for her on her bedroom wall and keep them forever.

And therein lies the power of the Dove workshop.  Teengirl and I are really close but we’d never think of sharing such inspirational, well thought out, kind words like these.

I hope that Dove gets these workshops into school across the UK.

And I’d love to see them doing them together with mums and their teenage daughters because they will change their relationship and their lives.

Absolutely utterly amazing.

Dove's bespoke installation on the Southbank visually brings to life how girls are missing out on key experiences and activities.

Teengirl writing on the lockers at Dove’s bespoke installation on the Southbank visually brings to life how girls are missing out on key experiences and activities.

FYI: Teengirl and I were at the Dove Self Esteem Project event at the Southbank Centre on Friday 11th October as part of International Day of the Girl.  We spent the day there with 160 wonderful teenage girls from schools from all over London.

The Dove Self Esteem Project is highlighting the sad statistics that 47% of 11-14 year old girls are opting out of everyday activities such as swimming and speaking up in class because they don’t like how they look.  The DSEP is addressing how low body confidence among young girls in the UK is stopping them reaching their potential.

Dove has teamed up with Girlguiding to boost low self-esteem through body confidence workshops and a badge.  The body confidence badge is set to reach more than 400,000 UK girls and 3.5 million girls globally.  The purpose of the badge is to educate girls on the importance of self-esteem whilst providing them with a badge they can wear with pride.

**Next time I’ll tell you about Body Gossip’s innovative and incredibly hard hitting play, what the girls planned for the WOW Festivals in their own schools and I’ll also pass on the words of feminist wisdom Jude Kelly, Artist Director of the Southbank Centre shared with all of us.

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About mumtoteens

mum to two teens and a toddler - not a easy mix tbh. The oldest is 18, the middlest is 13 and the baby is 2 and we live a life full of love and chaos. View all posts by mumtoteens

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Lou Treleaven, writer

Writing for children, submitting manuscripts, reviewing great books and other wordcentric activities

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