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Bishop of Gloucester: compliment attributes of young people, not appearances, to affirm self-worth

02 March 2018


Delegates listen to a speech at the Liedentity Conference, a free one-day event held at Gloucester Rugby Club on 20 February

Delegates listen to a speech at the Liedentity Conference, a free one-day event held at Gloucester Rugby Club on 20 February

ALTERNATIVE messages to the ones that leave young people hating their appearance were explored in Gloucester last week, at a conference hosted by the diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek.

More than 200 people, including teachers and youth workers, gathered on Tuesday of last week to explore body image and self-esteem, as part of the Liedentity campaign launched by Bishop Treweek in 2016 (News, 28 October 2016, Comment, 5 May 2017).

Speaking at the end of the day, she described how both young people and adults had described feeling “overwhelmed” by messages that focused on physical appearance. One way to combat this was to focus compliments on attributes rather than appearance, she said.

“So often, messages we are giving to young people, often subconsciously, are about appearance. Grandparents and parents really get that. We try to affirm by saying what a person looks like, but that’s not always helping. What about saying ‘You’re such a good listener,’ or ‘You’re great, the way you make me laugh’?”

Young people had expressed enthusiasm about going into primary schools to support younger children in the transition to secondary school, she said.

“People are quite intrigued about why a bishop is talking about this. If we really want to connect with young people, perhaps we do not give enough time to listening to what issues beset them.” She wanted young people to know that they were “valued, precious, loved”, and pointed out that, unless they felt this, they would struggle to raise their voices in society.

Since launching the campaign, Bishop Treweek has visited several schools to discuss issues of self-worth with teenagers. But the issue has resonated among older parishioners, who have told her about concerns about grandchildren who are battling issues of self-esteem, and struggling with eating disorders.

One of the speakers at the conference was Dr Phillippa Diedrichs, Associate Professor at the Centre for Appearance Research, at the University of the West of England.

In Thought for the Day on Radio 4 on Tuesday of last week, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, suggested that some appearance-transforming apps on phones were “sinister”.

“It seems to me that we live in a culture that is unhealthily obsessed with physical beauty, and that this especially affects the young,” he said. He recalled how one teenager had addressed him at a youth conference, saying “I’m ugly, aren’t I?”

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