LOW self-esteem among girls and young women today is “sad and concerning” — but it can be addressed by changing the language used and the importance placed on physical appearances, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said.
The Church must also play its part, by listening to the concerns of young people, not the concerns they believe young people have, she says.
Bishop Treweek was speaking on the launch of her social-media campaign #liedentity, last Friday, to encourage young people to value their worth beyond physical appearances. “The only thing we have the power to change is ourselves,” she said. “But if this campaign changes the way we speak about, compliment, and appreciate one another, it might have a ripple-on effect.”
She started the discussion with a group of pupils from All Saints’ Academy, Cheltenham, who said that their peers, the media, and celebrities had all contributed to varying levels of low self-esteem. “Most of what they wrote on social media, they said, was to do with make-up, appearance, hair, the likes and the dislikes,” Bishop Treweek said.
“None of the girls were happy with their bodies, and [they] talked about living in a society in which they needed to be fixed. I enjoy clothes and make-up — but they are an expression of who I am, not who I am.”
It comes after a report from the Children’s Society last month suggested that a third of girls in the UK were unhappy with their appearance (News, 2 September). A report from Girlguiding last week also suggested that 42 per cent of girls aged 11 to16, and half of women aged 17 to 21, felt embarrassed or ashamed of the way they looked, often, or most of the time.
Bishop Treweek said that, at the age of 14, she was tall, with “enormous feet and terrible acne”; but she did not have to battle with the expectations that are garnered by social media today. She also took confidence from her Christian faith.
“I had a very strong sense of being loved by God for who I am. If you don’t have that, and all of the messages about your worth come through what you look like, then I am not surprised it causes mental-health issues.”
The Girlguiding survey, of more than 1500 young people, suggested that 37 per cent of 11-to-21-year-olds often compared themselves to celebrities; 80 per cent agreed that women were too often shown in the media and online as sex objects; and 61 per cent said that this portrayal was disempowering to women.
Sexual harassment, online abuse, stress, loneliness, and mental well-being were also covered in the report: 69 per cent of girls aged seven to 21 felt that they were “not good enough”.
The #liedentity campaign was not limited to visual appearance, Bishop Treweek said. “If we want a world in which young people and adults speak out on the bigger issues — equality, refugees, poverty — they must be secure in who they are.”