I've spent the past 4 days gradually working myself into a state of beyond-knackeredness, performing 5 hour long, very intense body confidence workshops per day to the students of Gloucestershire College.
A surprising consequence - I have found myself gaining a fascinating insight into what it must be like to be Mark Newey (my boss).
Mark has devised a unique and brilliant "mind map" - a way to convey in layman's terms the way we ingest, dismiss or store the information we take in from the outside world and how this in turn dictates our values, beliefs, self esteem and, ultimately, our behaviour. I remember Mark taking me through the mind map during my first session at Winning Minds and thinking it would be actually impossible for anything in the entire universe to make more sense. All of our clients, whatever their background, personality or issue, immediately identify and recognise that the map accurately represents the inner workings of their mind.
As part of my body confidence campaign, I have adapted the mind map to show how our sense of identity and self is inextricably tied up with how content we are in our own skins, which in turn has been to some extent manipulated and defined by external factors (for example the messages given to us by fashion and beauty industries).
I have officially decided that watching the students wide eyed, occasionally open mouthed, maintaining an expression which might just as well be accompanied by a cartoon light bulb appearing above their heads, is the fun-est thing EVER. I can completely understand why educating people about their minds gets Mark out of bed in the morning - It's brilliant. There are few things in this life you could teach to a class of 30 and have every single person nod vigorously in response to the question "does that make sense?"
What I'm attempting to do is instill in these young people a sense of perspective, to enrich their own lives by establishing a better relationship between their minds and bodies and those of others by actively contributing in the beauty revolution. I have spoken to media, graphics, hair, beauty, music and photography students i.e. the people who will be responsible for moulding and influencing future attitudes towards beauty and I have been careful to point out that an attainable standard of beauty in the public eye does NOT mean that they will have to compromise their craft. Acknowledging a responsibility to present a public image which won't make people feel insecure and unworthy does not have to be at the expense of beauty, creativity and, more importantly, fun.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially (and surprisingly) from the fashion and photography students, who seemed to inherently grasp that some aspects of their chosen industry could do with a dose of introspection and improvement. I've met some genuinely gorgeous people, full of optimism and enthusiasm for life. I've also met some people whose own body insecurities have crippled their self esteem and prevented them from enjoying the maximum freedom minimum responsibility set-up of their student days.
It's been heartbreaking, when some of these lovely, creative, intelligent young people have confessed that their constant lack of self esteem is having an adverse effect on their lives, but not surprising. I cannot therapise them - That is Mark's remit. I also cannot tell them how to think. What I can do is open the door for them to question their longstanding beliefs. Is it right to analyse the "coincidence" that the plastification of our society has coincided with a huge plunge in our individual self-esteem and sense of worth? Can the insecurity which it is in the best interests for certain industries to cleverly and subtly instill within us transfer itself, so it stops being about our looks and begins to seep into every area of our lives? Can an airbrushed image ultimately make us believe we are bad people?
I know of course, that the answer to all of these questions is yes - But it's a conclusion I hope they come to on their own.
My West Country antics are being reported tomorrow (12th Feb) in the Gloucester Echo. I will also be speaking about the campaign on BBC Radio Gloucester at around 10am tomorrow and Star FM later in the day. Look out also for a news feature, including footage from one of my talks and the reactions of the students on ITV News next week - More details to follow.