Do you remember the first time you had negative thoughts about your body? I do.

Do you remember the first time you had negative thoughts about your body?

I do. I was in my mid teens and I’d just gotten out of the bath. I frowned into the mirror while using my hands to smooth down the fleshy parts of my hips that, in my mind, stuck out too much and were not what I’d seen on women in magazines and on TV.

20 years and a lot of self acceptance later I’ve learned to like my ‘violin hips‘ (yep, that’s an actual term), but can still vividly recall my teen years and well into my 20s being plagued by feelings of physical inadequacy.

At 36 I still have a complex relationship with my body.

I’m not alone. The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report (the first of its kind to examine the impact of body-esteem, pressures and confidence among girls), uncovered some pretty alarming stats.

The study revealed that low body-esteem is a critical issue in Australia, with half of all girls saying they don’t have high body-esteem. Sadly, when girls in Australia feel that way they opt out of important life activities and may never reach their full potential.

8 in 10 girls with low body-esteem will avoid situations like engaging with friends and family, participating in activities outside of the house, or trying out for a team or club. This is not only detrimental to the girls themselves but society also misses out on the next generation of future female leaders.

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The Dove Self-Esteem Project launched in 2004 and helps the women of tomorrow develop a positive relationship with the way they look through a collection of resources available to teachers, parents or girls themselves.

In the 14 years it’s been running the work that’s been done is truly impressive. Impressive in the number of women and girls that’ve been reached (nearly 30 million young people across 138 countries) but also, importantly, in its true purpose and authenticity.

While some brands are out there singing their own philanthropic praises in a token bid to make more money, the Dove Self-Esteem Project is so much more than a vanity project – it has literally nothing to do with deodorant and body wash. The project is one of the largest providers of body confidence education in the world.

In Australia and New Zealand, 900,000 lives were reached as of 2017, and in 2018 a global partnership between the Dove Self-Esteem Project and Cartoon Network was announced.

The aim was to pair up with one of the world’s most popular cartoons, Steven Universe, and use its character’s existing influence to create a media landscape for young people that inclusively celebrates every person’s uniqueness.

Why a pre-exisiting cartoon? Because a child’s concept of what an ‘ideal appearance’ looks like is heavily influenced by what they see on-screen. Today’s girls and boys spend an average of two hours and 19 minutes every day viewing on-screen media, so what they watch can either yield a positive or negative impact on self-esteem and body confidence.

Animator Rebecca Sugar worked with Professor Phillippa Diedrichs, a body image expert, to create a series of animated films and songs using the diverse Steven Universe characters that were of course entraining, but that also blended academically validated ways of helping young people with self-esteem.

The content is backed by scientific evidence to make a meaningful impact on a young person’s body confidence – something that has never been done before. Rebecca, Steven Universe creator, said that the partnership was partly personal.

“I have struggled, and continue to struggle with body confidence. I used to have difficulty eating. I took very poor care of myself, and cared only about drawing. I used to be very against beauty as a concept, and wanted to celebrate ugliness with my drawings, to find a way to show the beauty in an ugliness that I felt in myself. But I shifted my thinking around the start of Steven Universe.”

Beyond structured workshops and the partnership with Cartoon Network, in July Dove pledged to further its work in the self-esteem space with the No Digital Distortion Mark initiative. The brand pledged to be held accountable to only show genuine and un-retouched portrayals of people by displaying a special symbol on all content.

The goal is to help women and girls navigate the media landscape, reminding them the images they see from Dove have not been digitally distorted to fit the ideals of what beauty is and isn’t.

The initiative is the result of research which revealed that women globally have lost faith in what they are viewing. 77 per cent believe that all images in the media have been digitally altered or airbrushed.

“When content in the media is not reflective of reality, it has a profound negative effect on the viewer,” said Jess Weiner, Cultural Expert and Adjunct Professor at University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism.

“By viewing unrealistic and unachievable beauty images it creates an unattainable goal which leads to feelings of failure. This is especially true of young girls who have grown up in a world of filters and airbrushing.”

The ‘mark’ will roll out across all the brand’s content globally by January 2019, kicking off now with with their deodorant campaigns. Dove is inviting other brands to use it, too.

“For decades, Dove has stood for real beauty and no digital distortion. The mark is a representation of the brand’s continued commitment to all women and real beauty everywhere,” said Sophie Galvani, Dove’s Global Vice President.

Image: Dove.

“This year, we want to go one step further and give women a tool to help them understand what is real and what isn’t. The mark will help women identify reality and relieve some of the pressure to look a certain way. We are hoping more brands join us in this movement, as this commitment needs to be widespread.”

Like I said, Dove does all of this adjacent to selling soap. Could it influence my purchasing habits next time I'm in the toiletry aisle at Woolies? Probably.

Do I feel a little happier knowing some of the profits of my anti-perspirant goes toward bettering the self-esteem of young women? You bet.

Do I wish there were resources like this when I was a girl trying to make my hips go away in the mirror after a bath? Absolutely.

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