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 report: From 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.