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The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. United Methodist Women is an active participant in this annual global gathering, especially through its Church Center for the United Nations. 

Body Confidence

When women and girls are objectified, they lose their capactity to fully engage with and in the world. A personal reflection on valuing ourselves beyond our appearance.  

At the United Nations parallel event, I found myself in the wrong meeting room. I had inadvertently landed in the workshop on Body Confidence and Girls. What is body confidence? I wondered.


I learned that body confidence is more than how we think or feel about our appearance -- it is the way girls and women behaves towards and operate our bodies.


Whether one is five or 80, I learned, a girl or woman may feel worried about her appearance. And that worry too often restricts her actions. Seventy-two percent of girls feel pressure to be beautiful.


After the session, I brought home a lot of interesting information to my twin 15-year old daughters, such as from Meaghan Ramsey, global director, Dove Self Esteem Project, who reported, “Nine out of ten of us would change one aspect of our physical appearance.”


Ms. Ramsey explained that the stereotyping of women and the relentless judging of women’s appearance stunts our imaginations.


For me, as the mother of teens, the most alarming statistic came from Emily Milton-Smith, a key member of the Australian Free Being Me curriculum and the Voices Against Violence curriculum across Australia, who reported that six out of ten girls stop doing what they love -- sports, arts, music -- because of the way they look when they are doing those activities.


Other statistics I learned from workshop include: One in three girls feel that they can’t engage in debate in the classroom because of the way they look. And one in five young people feel strongly that they don’t like the way they look. There are studies which show, Ms. Milton-Smith reported, that one impact of self objectification is a reduction in cognitive capacity. It seems thinking too much of ourselves as an object is not good for our thinking.


I learned, too, there are many consequences to low body confidence, among these are earlier age of engagement in sexual activities, lower school grades, and disordered eating. The issue of low body confidence seems to magnify other problems.


The overriding goal is for girls to realize they have self worth. “And they are worthy of investment,” said Ms. Milton-Smith. When women and girls have self worth, they will know and enjoy the full spectrum of human rights. We can learn that our bodies are not what we look like, but what they allow us to do. In the new curriculum, we learn, “I like my legs because of the way they work,” or “I like my hands because they bring food to my mouth.”

I told my daughters that twenty years ago, I attended the women’s conference in Beijing, a life-changing experience,  and among the items in the Platform for Action were calls for the girl child to be valued and women to be fairly represented in the media. These have yet to be achieved.


One difference from twenty years ago is that media today includes social media. And even self-generated content, such as Facebook or Instagram, girls and women often let others’ photos inhibit them from feeling free to be who they are and do what they want to do.


In an odd twist, after I finished sharing many of these facts with my twin daughters, I asked one of my girls to run to our mailbox to collect our family mail. I had changed into a pair of sweatpants and I told her, “I can’t go get the mail, because I look terrible.”


What! At that moment, I realized that I, too, limit my actions based on my perception of my appearance. In the future, I vowed to my girls I would not limit myself because of my perception of my appearance -- if for no other reason than I want to be I want to be a healthy role model for my daughters. I want to teach them that women and girls are not valued based on their looks, but on their actions and their capacity. Body confidence is important.


This workshop was sponsored by a program called Free Being Me, a program of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and the Self-Esteem Project of Dove, a corporate sponsor.



| 3/17/2015 1:23:31 PM | 0 comments
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