If you’ve been paying attention to the media lately, you’ve probably noticed a big push to embrace women of all shapes and sizes. Model Ashley Graham covered Sports Illustrated this year in a revolutionary move by the magazine. Kim Kardashian is still redefining sex appeal with her curves. Even celebs like Amy Schumer are advocating for acceptance of all sizes along a spectrum.
However, the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report suggests we’re making less headway than you might expect. In a follow-up to studies conducted in 2004 and 2010, the surprising new survey of 10,500 women across 13 countries shows women’s body-related esteem is actually on the decline.
Roughly 71 percent of women and 67 percent of girls think the media could still do a better job representing women of “diverse physical appearance, age, race, shape and size.” Most women (85 percent) and girls (79 percent) admit to opting out of activities they would otherwise enjoy, like spending time with friends or trying out for a team, if they don’t feel they look their best.
Even more alarming, nearly nine in 10 women with low self-esteem said they will sometimes “stop themselves from eating or will otherwise put their health at risk” in some way — and 7 in 10 girls will be less assertive in their decisions — when they’re feeling down about their appearance.
Jess Weiner, a confidence expert and CEO of Talk to Jess LLC, as well as Dove’s global self-esteem ambassador, says a few aspects of these new statistics stand out. “The issue of body confidence and self-esteem among women and girls is increasingly becoming a topic of conversation — not only in the media, but among policymakers, consumer brands, and educators,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “And so, with that increased dialogue, you are going to uncover more examples of similar feelings amongst women.”
However, talk about body love isn’t always indicative of actual feelings or true change. “We can’t mistake the fact that, just because we have ‘rah rah’ messaging in some advertising or media, we are actually doing a right share of correcting the misrepresentation of women and girls in media,” Weiner says. “I care a lot about the accurate representation of women and girls in the media.”
According to Weiner, “We can’t be what we can’t see,” and women are conscious of the fact that “thin” is still overwhelmingly in. “Many women and girls limit themselves because they don’t see people that look like them in ‘traditional or normal’ advertising,” she explains.
Karla Ivankovich, a counselor and professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, is glad to see Dove’s statistics come to light. “On one hand, the report shows that women feel as if they cannot not measure up — yet on the other hand, they truly believe that everyone has the right to measure up,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “That revelation will probably give the majority of women an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. They aren’t the only ones who don’t ‘feel’ the changes of body acceptance yet. It spotlights the severity of the situation and calls for change.”
Increased visibility of all bodies, shapes, and races will be key moving forward; we’re making progress, but changing the current culture of appearance will take time. “When we can see a variety of shapes and sizes as normalized and acceptable and beloved, it will go a long way in helping us individually embrace our own beauty,” says Weiner. “Additionally, we have to continue having the hard conversations, deconstructing media myths, and working on our own individual process of self-discovery.”
Ivankovich says that this is another reminder for women that your self-worth is not your shape or size, something we need to instill in young girls as well. “We negate the importance of loving ourselves first, because society encourages us to concern ourselves with the perceptions and approvals of others by way of social media. Social media platforms are driven by individuals seeking approval and giving that approval back.”
This is a major area that Weiner wants to help change. “About 56 percent of all women recognize the impact of an ‘always on’ social media culture in driving the pressure for perfection,” Weiner says, noting that she has been working on the #SpeakBeautiful campaign for Dove, in partnership with Twitter, to drive down negative beauty talk. Over the past year, she’s happy to report “a 47 percent decrease in negative conversation about beauty and body image” on the platform.
Social media (and media in general) is one place where change is just starting. In the meantime, Weiner hopes, women can work on creating their own perception of beauty on an individual level. “For me personally, I established a new value system,” she says. “I began valuing moments, memories, and experience more so than approval, acceptance, or compliments on my appearance. When I valued more of an in-depth connection to people, I cared less about appealing to the masses. That helped me feel like my best self, because I was more integrated.
“It was less about just my body or appearance, and more about the whole me, the messy me, the work in progress me,” she continues. “In that mess, I felt most like myself. Authentic, free, and filled with self-love.” May we all grow to feel that way in time.