Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Why the Beauty Issue is More than Skin Deep

Yesterday evening I attended the Ogunte Women’s Social Leadership Awards on behalf of Ruth Rogers, who had been finalized in the ‘Campaigns’ category for Body Gossip (woo!). I wore my lucky hot pink suede stilettos, and as such was confident she’d scoop the prestigious gong, but sadly on this occasion, they remained merely fabulous footwear and didn’t work their usual magic (we was robbed). I did, however, feel right at home in a room populated entirely with women incredibly passionate about social change and prepared to chew your ear right off in order to achieve it.

Most of these women were incredible, inspiring and equally interested in our campaign as I was in there’s. One of them, conversely, shocked me with her rudimentary understanding of Body Gossip. She lollopped up to me, examined my name tag and remarked in tones dripping with sarcasm ‘oh yes, Body Gossip, that’s people moaning about their bodies isn’t it? Like it’s the end of the World if you don’t like your body. Ha!’. Momentarily stunned I simply replied ‘not exactly, no’.

I was then treated to what was obviously a very well-rehearsed 20 minute rant about climate change, how no one appreciates the urgency, how it’s the most pressing social issue in today’s society, the root of most natural disaster and human tragedy and of course the implication of all this being that Body Gossip paled into insignificance by comparison.

I felt my 18 year old self (the champion Oxford Union debater) stir within me. I tried to placate her by eating black 4 olives on a skewer. She wasn’t having any of it. Olives were apparently no substitute for the joy of a decisive rebuttal. Finally, I turned to face this walking mass of self-righteousness straight on and said ‘perhaps there are issues which you perceive to be more worthy than body image. However, I think you will find most people are far too crippled with insecurity and self-loathing to give a tiny little rats arse about the environment, so perhaps you had better jump on board, love’.

I then treated her to a catwalk style pivot, head swish and onward saunter, if only to demonstrate that there is no law against pioneering for social change AND conditioning your hair.

If history has taught us anything, it is that sweeping issues under the proverbial rug is the least effective means possible of solving them. We might not like to think of ourselves as the kind of ‘superficial’ people who might get swept into life-crippling body image obsession, but until we face our demons, we’ll be rendered incapable of thinking about much else, including, but not limited to, climate change.

Attempting to abstain from society, opting out, not getting on the celebrity worship merry-go-round and snorting derisively at the entire situation doesn’t help either. The fact is that we live in a world where an estimated 30% of young men and 70% of young women cite their relationship with their body as their number 1 worry. These young people have the potential to be anything (they could even go on to be scientists who discover an alternative for current fuels, you will note, Climate Change Lady), but they are flittering away this potential by pouring their energy into obtaining an elusive ‘perfect’ aesthetic. 1 in 10 people under the age of 25 allow this to develop into an eating disorder, with millions more opting to exhibit their dissatisfaction in other ways (body dysmorphia, depression, self harm, alcohol abuse etc).

Whilst perhaps not as dramatic as a natural disaster, lack of self esteem is, undoubtedly, killing people. Furthermore, however much we dislike admitting it, we are all responsible for the state of society and we all have a responsibility to fix it.

Would I consider campaigning for climate change? Absolutely. But I’m going to work on the self esteem and mindset of as many young people in this country as I can first.

After all, everyone has a different passion. Mine is ensuring teenagers are allowed to fulfill their potential and succeed in their chosen field without having their lives blighted by the physical and emotional problems which accompany low body confidence (and getting the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders changed…… and enlightening people about the genius of David Bowie…….. but those are for other days). Ruth’s is ensuring real people’s body stories are given a powerful voice, so that we can appreciate natural and realistic beauty. Climate Change Lady’s is saving the environment. No one is more worthy or urgent than the other. Just like there’s room for all types of bodies in the beauty spectrum, there’s room for all sorts of causes in the concept of social change.

So, the moral of the story is, if you wish to confront me and question everything I stand for at a public event, please feel free to do so, but do be prepared to be put down spectacularly by Oxford Union Girl (I cannot control her, I’m sorry, she is a force unto herself) and then to be the subject of one of my blog-rants. Don’t say you have not been warned.


  1. Hi Natasha! Very bold blog! Am glad you've attended the awards and made your point. It's the whole point of this platform, to raise awareness about diverse campaigns and their leaders, and put them next to each other. Working across silos is great when people are ready to listen, learn and connect and tap into each other's expertise. As you say, there might be connections between someone's mindset to prevent climate change and a mindset to appreciate the beauty of your own body, it's about personal and global wealth and wellbeing, it's interconnected, isn't it!
    So thanks again for giving substance into the debate!

    Servane Mouazan
    Founder Ogunte and Women's Social Leadership Awards

  2. Hi Servane

    I had a fantastic time at the event, met some wonderful people and was introduced to some amazing campaigns. Just this one woman who annoyed me slightly!

    Thanks so much for inviting me and for a great night.

    N x