If you ask any woman above the age of about 30 which advert sticks most in their minds, I wouldn't be at all surprised if most of them mentioned the Dove Real Beauty campaign. For pretty much the first time ever, real women with all their less than perfect bits - such as freckles, wrinkles and wobbly bits - were championed and the extent of airbrushing in fashion shoots was revealed. Cue a big collective whoop of joy and sigh of relief !
I was therefore really pleased to hear that Dove are now focusing on teen and pre-teen girls by launching the Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP), a new online space packed full of resources specifically designed to help parents build their girls’ body confidence and self-esteem. As a mum of two girls aged 8 and 11, I know that already by this age, body confidence is a huge issue. Sophie frequently says that she's fat and ugly (she is neither), she hates her gappy front teeth and glasses and she's been the target of bullying, both on and offline, as I told you last year. When Dove said they were looking for people to test out their new project, I was very keen to get involved.
Research from DSEP highlights that 60% of girls globally are missing out on participating in daily activities, sports and experiences because poor body confidence and low self-esteem is holding them back. Dove say : "Dove’s mission is to help the girls of today, our women of tomorrow, to develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem, and realise their full potential. Dove believes the next generation of women should grow up to be happy and content, free from misconstrued beauty stereotypes and the burden of self-doubt. Dove hopes parents will find the help and support they need in the new online space to guide their daughters through the emotional ups and downs of growing up to emerge as confident young women”. Sounds fabulous in theory, time to investigate.
I sat down with Sophie and we went exploring the website together. Alongside all the informative and supportive articles focusing on body confidence and other related issues including bullying, we found a game called Flaw-less. This pairs game highlights the fact that what many people consider to be "flaws" would actually be seen in a positive light in other cultures. It was really interesting. I learnt that my little fingers correspond to a happy-go-lucky attitude (pretty accurate) and Sophie was very amused to learn that the gappy front teeth she hates so much are a sign of beauty in Africa. The most important message to come through was that there is no universal definition of beauty - it really is in the eye of the beholder.
Having had some enjoyable "me and you time" as Sophie likes to call it, we went to look for another activity to share and found Cracking Compliments, which highlights that we often take nice comments from friends the wrong way. We watched the video together and Sophie couldn't help but smile because the "you look really skinny in that top"/"are you saying I look fat normally?" part is an actual conversation that we have had in the past ! After a less than tactful paedeatrician said to us in front of a highly embarrassed Sophie last year that she needed to lose a little weight and should watch what she ate, Sophie has been very touchy about the subject. (According to him, she needed to lose a whopping (not!) 2kg to have the perfect weight - given that she is as tall as me, that's nothing !) This just goes to show how hurtful and lasting careless throwaway comments can be, so we've decided to make sure we make lots of throwaway compliments instead from now on !
Next we came across this video showing how make-up and airbrushing can transform a very ordinary-looking girl into a total stunner. I'd seen it before but Sophie hadn't so she was blown away by the transformation. She quite rightly commented that anyone could look like a top model if they had a stylist and hair and make-up team on hand ! I read out the comment on the final frame about how all this distorts our image of beauty and she came out with another revelation : "we're all as beautiful as the models really, we just don't use photoshop to lie". Bingo ! (I went looking for a "stars without makeup" photo collection that I'd seen online the other day which she found to be a real eye-opener too !)
After watching all this, it was time to test Sophie's talent at spotting airbrushed photos in the Retouch Roulette game. She was hopeless, much to her delight ! She got better the more we played, spotting the changes but also commenting at how stupid they are - "who cares if her little finger is a bit longer?!" - realising that the quest for "perfect beauty" is only possible when using computer retouching, but above all that it really isn't necessary because the girls looked absolutely fine in the original photos anyway.
The website wasn't just an eye-opener for Sophie though. Although she learnt a lot about feeling better about herself and not trying to live up to the false ideals of professional fashion shoots, it made me have a real think about my influence on her outlook too. There is a section entitled "Love yourself to give your daughter greater body confidence". I could definitely do a better job there. You've probably seen my weekly weigh-in posts and know that I am on a mission to get back to pre-pregnancy shape (or somewhere near there anyway). I am careful to avoid silly or over-restrictive diets and show Sophie and Juliette that weight loss is about eating sensibly and getting active, rather than looking for a quick fix solution. I still eat chocolate and cake - life is for living, and there are more important things than the numbers on the scales - but Sophie does see me weighing myself and does sometimes say "oh no, I won't eat that, it's got too many calories in it". This sentence leapt out at me : "Ever found yourself looking in the mirror and frowning or moaning about how you look? You may not even realise you're doing it, but your daughter probably will." Uh oh. They suggest digging out some old photos of yourself and realising that, even though you probably thought you had body issues back then, you looked great and probably wish you had that body now - sounds familiar ! Giving your body credit for all it has experienced such as childbirth and pregnancy and remembering that all those ideals we strive for are probably digitally enhanced is another top tip. Reconnecting with your body by boogying along to some feel-good tunes and enjoying exercise with your daughter, as well as discussing the things you like about each other's style, are also suggested as really positive ways of giving yourself a mutual and long lasting ego-boost.
We finished off with this video. It's fascinating to see that women can instantly rattle off a list of their least favourite body parts but take a lot longer to think of one feature that they do like. It was also very telling to see perfectly toned and proportioned women saying that they hate their (perfectly formed) tummies and hips.
The whole website is packed with interesting articles to make you think about and ultimately rethink the way you see your body, both as a teen/pre-teen but also as a mum. We enjoyed some lovely mum-daughter quality time and it led on to some really interesting and important conversations about things that have been worrying or even upsetting Sophie. I was really pleased to see that this week, Sophie bit the bullet and put herself forward as a candidate for class representative - last year, all her teachers encouraged her to do it but she was too shy and was convinced nobody would vote for her. Well, she got over her nerves and made her speech and was really chuffed to see that she was voted in by her classmates. Proud Mum moment and great confidence-booster for Sophie!
Today is the International Day of the Girl, which sounds like the perfect occasion for going and checking out the DSEP website with your daughters !
for more information : http://selfesteem.dove.co.uk/
Disclosure : I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.
Other blogposts you may be interested in :