Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Warning Signs

Some pretty stark findings from a Girl Guides survey on how young girls see themselves, confirming what the Childrens Society reported a couple of months ago:

Among the 559 seven- to 10-year-olds who took part in the survey:
  • 36% said they were made to feel the most important thing about them was their looks
  • 38% felt they were not pretty enough
  • 35% agreed women were judged more on their appearance than their abilities
  • 23% felt they needed to be perfect
And these feelings were far more prevalent among the more than 1,000 11- to 21-year-olds who took part:
  • 80% felt their looks were the most important thing about them
  • 66% felt they were not pretty enough
  • 93% agreed women were judged more on appearance than ability
  • 47% believed their looks held them back most of the time
  • 61% felt the need to be perfect

This follows on from last weeks news that 26% of women aged 16-24 are reporting symptoms of mental illness. Not so long ago, that was the lifetime figure - how many of us over our lifetime might suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental illness. 

This is a major crisis. Philip Hammond was highlighting 'productivity' yesterday, and wanted the Conservative conference to believe that by investing in a few key parts of the economy, we'd get it sorted. Perhaps the problem is something much more fundamental, and the solution something much more radical. No matter how well educated we are, or how fast our broadband speed, we are a nation in the grip of a mental health epidemic. It affects our relationships, parenting, rates of substance abuse, and workplace productivity, along with a whole host of other things. 

Time to Change is a commendable campaign to end mental health stigma, but don't lets pretend that once we've done that, all will be well. On the same day as the Guides survey came out, the Royal College of Surgeons issued patient guidelines for people wanting to have cosmetic surgery. This is a symptom of the same disease - women who learn to hate their appearance when children will be the customers of the cosmetic industry when they're older. 

The Bishop of Gloucesters campaign on body image among girls is timely, but there is a whole industry that needs taking out here. After Justin Welby prophetically spoke and acted on payday loan companies, the Welby Effect has been quite dramatic. It will take something bigger to undermine the structure of an image industry which involves surgeons, dentists, magazines, music, film, TV, Kim Kardashian, social media, selfie sticks, the cosmetics firms, advertising, and the devil - who doesn't wear Prada, but wants women to believe that their lives are incomplete without a brand name.

In an image-dominated society, the cultural flow is towards appearance and presentation. How do we bring into the cultural mainstream the idea that beauty is a quality of character, rather than an advertisers dog whistle? "Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgement" (John 7:24). We are so far gone it's almost impossible to imagine what UK society would look like if we took these words of Jesus seriously

We are also incredibly conflicted about this - the Paralympics (remember them?) does a great job for promoting a positive image of people with disabilities, but at the same time we enshrine in law a procedure which will lead to the abortions of more disabled children. A sense of value is based on externals - what people can do, contribute, look like, produce, or achieve (anyone for Grammar Schools?) - is spiritually and emotionally toxic. I'm not sure if a post-Christian society is actually able to come up with anything better than this, the signs are that any cultural sense of intrinsic worth as people uniquely loved and made in God's image is decaying fast. 'Because I'm worth it' is a marketing slogan, not a philosophical truth - the irony is that the slogan undermines self-worth at the moment it's delivered. 

Final thought: feminism needs to be reclaimed from capitalism. It has been colonised and trivialised. Imagine if you can the early Suffragettes sitting at the NFL final, watching Beyonce and her army of half-dressed minions waving their bottoms at the crowd, then turning to each other and saying "ladies, our work is complete." No, me neither. 

From the Girl Guides reportFrom as young as seven, girls feel the impact of daily sexist images of women and girls in the media, online and around them. Girls tell us that sexist objectification of women in the media makes them feel disempowered and that gender stereotypes make them feel that their gender will hold them back in life. They tell us they have to confront intense and unobtainable appearance pressures to be perfect and many say they feel they’re not good enough. 

1 comment:

  1. Lee B. James11/10/16 2:01 am

    But a girl's looks ARE important, and a woman SHOULD want to be perfect for her husband. What more could a young girl aspire to than to be a pleasing sight to her husband? The Bible says that women were made for men, to help men, and to be homemakers and mothers. The Bible places great emphasis and importance on a woman's beauty. In the New Testament, God explicitly affirms it normal for a wife to want to be found without spot or blemish. That is one of the many vast differences between men and women: women are the beautiful ones and beauty is important to them. Women are not men, and should not aspire to be men. Women are to be quiet, submissive, obedient to their husbands, respect men, and of course completely silent in church meetings as Scripture commands. It is awful to think that the minds of small girls today are being corrupted by the modern feminist movement. But it seems God is just about done with this wicked country which no longer fears God. It is only by a sheer miracle that anyone comes to repentance in this godless climate.