By Margretta Sowah

The scrutiny of our genders is a source of contention for adolescents across the globe. Young men and women are constantly being reminded of physical inferiority. When we talk about Model rights we rarely acknowledge that perception of physicality is the emotional response the industry silences. What about the model in the mirror? Let’s take a step back and get a full picture of the situation regarding health within the modelling industry and how it seeps into the larger Zeitgeist.

There is no denying the correlation between models (or, to put it in the broader sense – people in the spotlight) and regular consumers who can’t help but be influenced by their peers. This is not peer pressure, it’s behavioural psychology.

According to All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image, ‘Body image dissatisfaction is seen to undermine self-confidence, contribute to depression, and lead to the onset of a range of physical, emotional and societal problems. Promoting positive body image is fundamental to addressing other social and public health problems facing young people.’

If all behaviour is learnt from the environment then where is the primary place we form a negative body image? In the context of the Fashion Industry, is it too easy to blame the marketing machine? Perhaps. And this is a long standing debate that distracts from the solutions available to break social structures and ingrained in society.

Another point made on Dove’s #BeReal website was: Around half of girls and up to one third of boys have dieted to lose weight, children and young people with body image dissatisfaction are less likely to engage in learning and participation in school, and over half of bullying experienced by young people was because of appearance.

“Body image dissatisfaction has never been higher, particularly among young people. The pressure to conform to the impossible body ‘ideals’ we are bombarded with in advertising, magazines and on the catwalk is overwhelming and damaging.”

Dove UK, seeing there needed to be a change, launched ‘The Dove Self-Esteem Project’, beginning with the #NoLikesNeeded campaign at Women in the World. Dove is encouraging girls to realise: the only ‘like’ that counts is their own.

According to Dove’s #BeReal website: Generation of social media ‘like-chasers’ revealed as girls admit feeling prettier online than in real life – this is why the #NoLikesNeeded campaign has been launched:

1 in 2 girls say they are using social networks ‘all the time’, across an average of 4 different networks and are increasingly considered as being ‘always on’

The average UK girl takes 12 minutes to prepare for a single ‘selfie’, thus spending 84 minutes a week getting ready for selfies

The number of girls who say social networks make them feel worse about their appearance doubles between the age of 13yrs to 18yrs – 30% agree at 13yrs vs 60% at 18yrs

Girls aged 18-23yrs want three times more ‘likes’ on social media than girls aged 13-17yrs.

During research for this article I was reminded of the sense of urgency body image pressures can severely weigh down adolescents. When I was younger – pre-social media days – I definitely had anxiety when I compared my body to others. I knew I was different. But I also knew others were different too. I am glad I didn’t have the proverbial social media status intimidation. Can you imagine how the youth are coping? Being overexposed and underdeveloped – in the sense that the body still is growing. I read somewhere it takes 24 years for the brain to full form. So if you are 13/14/15 with a warped sense of value because of the behavioral pressure society puts on us to be ‘thin and free’, how can you fully live out to your full potential?

If we have the validation from our peers and ‘the mirror’ (our eyes are mirrors, too) then our lives will be perfect; or at least a little lighter. And if you are lighter, you will be accepted. And if you are accepted, you will be happy? Well, boys and girls of the world, that is not the case. Top Models, industry leaders, CEO’s and even your garbage man will all tell you there is fault in relying on others approval because it will always be undermined by their own approval of themselves. What I am saying is to #BeReal we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. We might have to ask others some tough questions, but trust that you are worth more than you think or feel you should look.

Dove truly believes everyone has the opportunity to make a difference in a girl’s self-esteem and the Dove Self-Esteem Project is centred around their #NoLikesNeeded campaign. Their ambition is to help inspire and encourage young women and girls to recognize their God-given potential, pursue excellence, and be undeniable by showcasing real role models for real girls.

There is no fast-track path to happiness or even body positivity, but it does start with the model in the mirror. Be a model for yourself – there is no likes needed, only love.