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May 30, 2012

The new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image states that body image anxiety is damaging society and shows over half of the public suffer from negative body image. The problem is so acute that girls as young as five now worry about their size and appearance, half of girls and one quarter of boys believe their peers have body image problems, and appearance is the largest cause of bullying in schools.

View the report here

A selection of media coverage:

The Telegraph

The Guardian

The Independent

BBC News

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (at 1:52 in the broadcast)

The report was co-authored by a cross party group of MPs and health and education charity, Central YMCA. The response to the three-month public inquiry co-ordinated by the APPG was that media (43.5%), advertising (16.8%) and celebrity culture (12.5%) together account for almost three quarters of the influence on body image in society, yet the “body ideal” that they typically present was estimated to not be physically achievable by nearly 95% of the population[vi]. Central YMCA will now take forward the report’s recommendations in a national campaign, to be launched in the autumn in partnership with several other organisations. The campaign will include the creation of a brand, or “kite mark”, which will be awarded to socially responsible businesses taking action to tackle negative body image.

Jo Swinson MP, Chair of the APPG said:
“Body image dissatisfaction in the UK has reached an all time high and the pressure to conform to an unattainable body ideal is wreaking havoc on the self-esteem of many people. Our inquiry took evidence from academics, the public, industry, charities and other experts, whose submissions formed the basis for the recommendations in the report. I welcome the work of Central YMCA and other organisations in taking these recommendations forward.”

Rosi Prescott, CEO Central YMCA, said:
“It’s clear that there’s something seriously wrong in society when children as a young as five are worrying about their appearance, based on the messages they are seeing all around them. The findings of the report are shocking; body image has become more important in our culture than health, and children are mimicking their parents’ concerns about appearance. We all have a responsibility to act now to bring about the attitudinal and behavioural change that’s necessary to prevent damage to future generations and that is why we are urging the public to give us their views to help shape the campaign we will be launching this autumn.”

Feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy, often driven by weight stigmatisation and the desire to achieve the unattainable “body ideal” are causing many people to sacrifice health for appearance. The inquiry heard that:
• Getting rid of dieting could wipe out 70% of eating disorders.
• More than 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost
• By the age of 14 half of girls and one third of boys have been on a diet to change their body shape
• 1.6m people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness
• Up to 1 in 5 cosmetic surgery patients could suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder
• Girls who diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat
• One in three men would sacrifice a year of life to achieve their ideal body
• One in five people have been victimised because of their weight
The report makes a series of recommendations targeted at policy-makers, healthcare professionals, industry and the education sector, designed to change public perceptions, attitudes and behavioural patterns.

These include:
• Teaching colleges to include body image and self-esteem within training for new teachers
• Support for new mothers and for primary and secondary school pupils
• Commitment from advertisers to develop campaigns that reflect consumer desire for authenticity and diversity
• A review of broadcast and editorial codes on reporting body-related issues
• Explore alternatives to the use of BMI alone as a measurement of health
• A review of the evidence base to support the long term efficacy and safety of diets
• Reframe public health messages to weight-neutral language
• A separate code of regulations governing cosmetic surgery advertising
• Mandatory screening of patients prior to them undergoing cosmetic surgery and further research to assess the long-term impact on patients’ psychological wellbeing
• Creation of an independent patient group which would provide impartial information, advice and support on body enhancements, including cosmetic surgery, skin whitening, supplements and steroids
• A review into whether the Equalities Act should be amended to include appearance-related discrimination

In advance of the launch of the campaign in the autumn, the public are now being invited to submit their views on the report and participate in an online survey to shape the campaign at

2 Comments leave one →
  1. LNC permalink
    May 30, 2012 5:24 pm

    Sadly, this is not a “new revelation”. I have been facilitating an annual body confidence class at the secondary school where I work for the past three years. The students, who are in year 8, often find it hard to consider how they think about themselves. Teens often have limited confidence when it comes to self-image. It is also a question of dealing with bullying, which can be taunts about how someone looks – “fat”, “skinny” – or trying to conform to some computer generated “ideal” image in a magazine.
    There is not just one solution, there must be a range of interventions. And, as the report says, feeling bad about yourself means you are less likely to engage in exercise, which helps with fitness.

    These lessons, are not to take the place of the core curriculum, but there is room in the the school timetable to have one lesson a year. Also, if we made it hard for young people to call each other names about their physical appearance, in the same way there has been a campaign to stop the use of the word “gay” to indicate something bad – whole school/home partnership, that would go a long way

  2. May 31, 2012 8:43 pm

    “Does my bum look big in this?”

    It’s become a joke – we laugh, but it hurts.

    Worry about weight and appearance is so all pervasive that we hardly question it.

    The focus ought to be on what creates this anxiety – not on how can we live with it, or how we can reduce it by losing weight and altering appearance.

    My daughter is still young enough to inhabit her body in total comfort. It is not that she is not conscious of her body – she is deliciously aware of it. She delights in it. She likes to adorn it, to change outfit several times a day, to dance and run and jump and climb, to wriggle and wallow in a bath, to prance about naked. Her body is an uncomplicated source of pleasure for her.

    But something terrible is going to happen to her. She is going to learn to judge her body, to wish it were different, and probably to expend effort, time and money trying to alter it.

    No matter how much we love her, and love the way she looks, and let her know this, other forces are at work that will cut across all this and destroy her easy self-acceptance.

    Before they even reach their teens, most girls have a troubled relationship with their bodies. They worry about how they look, about being fat, about having hair in the wrong places, about not being tanned, about their size, their skin, their hair, their nose, their bum.

    Many teenage girls already have a regime of painting their faces, shaving and straightening. Most girls have tried skipping meals and eating less in attempts to be thinner.

    Children are fed a constant diet of images showing them how we are meant to look and behave. Greater importance seems to be given to how we seem and what we have, rather than what we do or who we are.

    I am outraged at the damage that will befall my daughter. I am incensed at the harm that has already been done to me – to how I see myself, how I think about myself, how hard I have to work to love this here body, exactly as it is.

    We can talk about the influences on us to look a certain way, and how we do not want to bow to them, but to be honest, I really cannot see how I can arm my daughter with the enormous self-confidence required to withstand the pressures. As their awareness grows, teens have a lot to contend with – they deserve all our love and support.

    I know that one way to guide my daughter through those vulnerable teen years with a good body image intact would be for me to call a ceasefire in the insidious war that has been waging between me and my body all these years. I wish that was simple.

    A campaign for body confidence is a great idea. Count me in!

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