Every January, our lives are flooded with the same message: it’s a new year and that means it’s time for a “new you”. That girl who didn’t take her make-up off before bed, only ran when there was a bus to the pub to catch and isn’t sure why she’d listen to a podcast when there are perfectly good TV shows to watch? She's gone. In her place is the “new you” – with a skincare routine, an exercise programme, a wide and varied cultural appetite and a plan to lose some of the tummy that’s standing between you and Kate Moss. The message blaring at us from TV, radio, social media and magazines is the same: you aren’t good enough. It’s time to make yourself good enough.
Feelings of low self-esteem and body confidence are pervasive all year round – a 2016 study by Dove showed that 80 per cent of UK women were unhappy with their body – but these negative thoughts and feelings somehow wheedle their way into your mind more easily in the new year. When you’re already feeling sensitive because you’ve had to crash back to reality after a week of TV, Quality Street and afternoon naps, an Instagram photo of a smiling celebrity in a sports bra, holding some “detox tea”, which would normally make you roll your eyes, can instead make you feel sad and small. It can make you poke and prod your body – your brilliant body, the body that lets you dance with your friends and hug your loved ones, and looks fabulous in that dress you picked up in the sales – and feel bad about it.
When you’re already feeling sensitive, an Instagram photo of a smiling celebrity in a sports bra, holding some 'detox tea', which would normally make you roll your eyes, can instead make you feel sad and small
It’s worse for young girls. Not only do they have to cope with the same societal pressure that grown women do, they also have to contend with their body changing on a near-daily basis and a brain that's a whirling mass of hormones and desperation to be accepted. Sixty-one per cent of 10- to 17-year-old girls in the UK say they don’t have high body esteem and, when your confidence is shot because you don’t like how you look, that holds you back in myriad ways. Eighty-eight per cent of those girls will either refuse to go to the doctor or skip meals, 80 per cent say they’ll avoid things like going out or speaking to their loved ones and 70 per cent say that their lack of body confidence stops them from being assertive. When we talk about body confidence, we’re not just talking about making girls feel "pretty". We’re talking about giving them the power to reach their full potential.
This year, we need to nip these low January feelings in the bud before they begin. Even if you aren’t a parent, when you’ve got younger women in your life – nieces, in your office, your friends’ children – you can and should do something to help. In response, Dove, which has been helping build self-esteem in young people for over 10 years and, by 2020, will have helped 40 million young people reach their full potential, is launching a new UK campaign on January 1 that is all about self-esteem. Not only will it feature young girls with no modelling background and no digital distortion, their website, dove.com/selfesteem, contains educational tools that can be downloaded for free to help encourage body confidence in girls. These steps don’t have to involve a big, serious chat about the way the media shapes our view of how we look, but instead show how spending a short amount of time with a young person can make a tangible lasting impact. It can be as simple as deciding not to engage in self-deprecating chat with our friends in front of young girls – you know that scene in Mean Girls, the “My hips are huge!” “I hate my calves” “I have really bad breath in the morning” one? That.
As women, we all know that we are worth more than the way we look, but the messages we are bombarded with from some types of media about the way we should look and feel about our bodies are difficult to ignore. This January, let’s take steps to break the “new year, new me” trend – not just with ourselves, but at grassroots level, too. Women and girls are pretty brilliant exactly as we already are. Once we believe that, there’s no end to what we can do.
Learn more about the Dove Self-Esteem Project here