Thinking You’re Ugly is Hazardous to Your Health

I’ve written before on Dove’s Self-Esteem project and the creative videos they have produced inviting us to examine our notions of beauty. This movement isn’t without its critics. And, indeed, we need to think critically and carefully about a campaign related to beauty sponsored by a company (Unilever) that sells hygiene and beauty products. At the same time, even as we offer critical feedback, we need, I think, to take seriously the underlying concerns Unilever is unearthing and responses they are suggesting.

Which brings me to this very well done – and for this reason also troubling and inspiring – TED Talk by Meaghan Ramsey, Global Director of the Dove project, who delves into the incredible number of confusing and largely negative messages our teens – and especially our daughters – receive about beauty, body, and self-image. Most of us may think we’re familiar with these issues. Perhaps we’ve read Mary Pipher’s wonderful Reviving Ophelia or paid attention to articles on the web and more. But as Ramsey points out, the access our kids have to the internet – or, perhaps more accurately, the internet- and social media-dominated lives our kids lead – raises these issues in a new and complex way.

How do we navigate this world? More importantly, how do we help the kids we love – whether our kids or the kids of someone else – to navigate this digital world and, in particular, to distinguish between the “likes” they receive (or don’t receive) on Facebook and their actual value. Moreover, we need to find ways not simply to shelter our kids from the overwhelming number of exaggerated and ridiculously unrealistic images of what constitutes health and beauty on the media, but to call those images into question.

Negative self-image, and particularly negative body-image, affects your health, your relationships, your grades, and even your willingness to try new activities or take a job interview. This is something that really matters and is affecting our culture and even economy in huge ways. While it is clearly a huge issue, Ramsey offers some practical advice in responding, especially inviting us to identify some of the core themes – like the importance of family and relationships and the need to talk about body image with our kids and each other – that need our attention. Moreover, she reminds us that we can speak against the media’s tendency to value people primarily on their appearance rather than on their character and accomplishment and, probably more important, we can go out of our way to do that in our own conversations.

Meaghan Ramsey’s important Talk is only twelve minutes long. I’d invite you to listen to it and then think about what you can say and do to build up the self-esteem and sense of acceptance of someone near you…even today.

Note: If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click the title at the top fo the post in order to watch the video.