New York City Launches Scheme to Improve Girls’ Self-Esteem

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has this week launched his latest public health campaign aimed – rather brilliantly – at improving the self-esteem of girls and young women living in the city. Just as Bloomberg and his team have previously taken on big tobacco firms and drinks manufacturers, this time their target is the fashion industry and the unattainable notions of beauty promoted by companies and agencies working within the field.

NYC Girls CampaignThe campaign – which tells girls that they are beautiful just as they are – is designed to reach girls of 7 to 12 years old, who are at high risk of negative body image and perception that can lead to eating disorders, risky sexual behaviour, alcohol abuse, bullying and suicide. Unlike previous New York City public health campaigns against teenage pregnancy and smoking, which have been worked through provoking repulsion or shock, however, the adverts for this campaign are upbeat and positive.

The campaign posters, which will mainly be displayed as bus and subway advertisements across New York City, feature wording such as:

‘I’m a girl. I’m funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, healthy and caring.’

In addition, the posters – which each feature girls of different races and body types (including disabled girls), as well as girls playing sports and instruments - each end with the campaign’s key slogan - ‘I’m beautiful the way I am.’ None of the girls featured in the campaign images have ever done any modelling work before, and all of them hail from New York state. So far, so good.

New York City officials – along with experts in adolescent health – report that this is the first campaign aimed at female body image carried out by a major city. In addition to the poster advertisements, the campaign – called the NYC Girls Project - will also offer fitness classes, a schools programme addressing self-esteem issues and a Twitter campaign, #ImAGirl. A 30-second video will also be shown on YouTube, the campaign website (which will offer resources for girls and parents) and in New York’s famous yellow cabs.

Personally, I think this is great. The fashion industry’s representation of beauty – mostly extremely thin bodies and highly-photoshopped faces – simply isn’t attainable for most women. Young girls along with a great deal of adult women, I’m sure, look at the images presented to them by the media and think that if they can’t attain that ideal, then they are not of value. In my mind, any campaign that tackles this unrealistic portrayal of female beauty – and aims to target the impacts it may have on our children and young people – is certainly worth spending money on.

According to The New York Timesthe campaign was conceived by Samantha Levine, an aide to Mayor Bloomberg, who said that she:

‘Had been moved by stories of little girls wearing body-shaping undergarments and wanting plastic surgery to improve their appearance.’

Well, quite. I think that it’s almost impossible to not be aware – as a girl or woman in today’s society – of the pressures there are around beauty, appearance and weight, and anything that aims to draw attention to the realities of female appearance – as opposed to the unrealistic version of beauty created by the media – is in my mind extremely positive. Young girls shouldn’t be considering plastic surgery – or indeed even thinking about wearing Spanx. Removing these trappings and aiming to promote positive body image and, above all, a happy childhood is something that really must be taken seriously.

Whilst the message promoted by Bloomberg and his team in this campaign might target a much smaller section of New York City’s population than, say, an anti-smoking campaign might, in my mind the value of this campaign – and the longer-term impact it may have – simply cannot be underestimated.

Image via VibeVixen.

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