This Friday October 11th marks ‘International Day of the Girl’ and to coincide with this I was recently asked by Mumsnet to review Dove’s new Self Esteem Project website. The rationale behind this project being the shocking statistic that “47% of 11-14 year old girls are opting out of everyday activities such as swimming and speaking up in class because they don’t like how they look.” Dove and I share a common goal in helping “to instil confidence in young girls so they take every opportunity to participate fully and realise their potential.”
This topic is one that has often bothered me, but has become more personal lately as I have a daughter rapidly approaching her tween years, and – speaking as somebody who had little to no body confidence as a young adult I want different – and better – for my daughter. Lately I have noticed a stark contrast in my daughter and some of her peers when it comes to attitudes and confidence towards their bodies, my daughter is still revelling in being a child who enjoys moving her body in her new gymnastics class and long favourite ballet, who loves to swim and dress as a cat as much as she does a princess. I don’t want this to change. I don’t want her to worry that she is too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, so I have raised her constantly being mindful of body confidence and the effects my words and actions (and those around her) will have not just today, but for the rest of her life and of any future daughters she may have.
Speaking as a birth professional and parenting author (and founder of TweenSOS) I think this acceptance of our bodies also plays a huge role in fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenting in ways most wouldn’t even consider. I feel it is vital therefore that we nurture young girls – re-educate them and support them, for they are our future, the future of womankind.
Dove’s aim is to “help create a more supportive environment for girls around the world.” and their new site the Dove Self Esteem Project (DSEP) is the hub upon which this aim is centred. The DSEP is a collection of facts, hints, tips, activities and information designed to be used by parents and those working with young girls, separated into different areas (including family, friends and relationships, growing up and body image and teasing and bullying). I think it is an ambitious and admirable (albeit a little cliched) project and aside from the fact that I can’t get over the irony that it’s produced by a company who sell beauty related products, I like it and can see myself signposting to it in my parenting coaching and even referring to it in my new tween book. I’m particularly pleased to see a section on the ‘role of media’ as in my opinion this is one area that *must* change, we need to put a stop to air brushed images (I love the ‘how to spot photoshopped images and why it matters’ section), perfect models, anorexia chic and page 3 and instead represent the glory of the natural female form whatever shape, size or colour it comes in.
This is very much tied to my belief that girls need to be more educated about the functions of their bodies from detailed teaching on fertility and the menstrual cycle and the biology of breastfeeding to removing the fear of birth. Removing the page 3 sexuality of breasts combined with decent education for instance, would have a remarkable effect on the UK’s breastfeeding rates. I would love to see Dove tackle this and bring a change to the dismal and woefully inadequate sex education currently offered in schools. Indeed it wasn’t until I became a mother and understood how my body worked that I truly valued my body and marvelled at the miracle that it was. I was well into my 30s before I gained body confidence.
My only criticism of the site is that I’m not quite sure who it’s written for, I think in perhaps trying to be a dual purpose site (with resources for professionals/teachers and parents) it has become perhaps less relevant to either. I would personally have liked to have seen a site JUST for parents, because really this is the group that REALLY matters – and specifically a site aimed at parents of MUCH younger girls, toddlers and preschoolers for that’s where the seeds are planted.
Another great idea would be a site solely for young girls (I’m not sure if Dove plan for this to come later? It seems a big omission at the moment). A site aimed at 7yrs plus, something fresh, funky and modern – a haven for them to turn to with questions they are perhaps too embarrassed to voice. When I was eight my mum gave me a booklet all about puberty and I devoured it, reading it time and time again, we had a great relationship but not one that was open enough to have frank discussions about periods and sex (something I vow to change with my own children), so that booklet was my well thumbed guide to womanhood. I can’t help feeling that this site could have been the modern day equivalent, in a ‘cool older sister’ style. There is no doubt that there is a *huge* amount of expertise behind the project, yet I can’t help feeling that perhaps there needed to be more ‘grass roots’ involvement to ensure that the end product actually gets used and ‘speaks’ to those it targets. I’m not so sure this does, though I can’t fault the theories behind the information – just the way it is broadcast.
I will definitely be using sections of the site though, on both a personal and professional level and do hope that the project is expanded in ways I have mentioned above. My ultimate aim though is that in the future that we can parent in a way that we don’t have to ‘fix’ our daughters when they hit their teens and that I fear, is where the real hard work lies….
Note: 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.