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This won’t hurt a bit

‘Her face, her face!’, the media screamed in ours this week. Yes, a famous Hollywood actress has dared to have (and then deny) surgical tweaks, and just in time for Halloween too—the ghouls are sat at their keyboards, sharpening their online pitchforks. As an industry, it has long been perceived to favour youth and the unattainable; where the damned if you do, damned if you don’t rule applies.

As our Measure what you treasure report shows, through their teenage years the self-esteem of girls falls away consistently whilst boys remains much more stable. Dr Simon Davey, Programme Leader at the Emerging Scholars’ Intervention Programme and a user of NPC’s Well-being Measure, said: ‘Girls in particular are more vulnerable to social pressures affecting their confidence and capability’.

But how are young women supposed to, as the Dove adverts say, ‘love the skin they’re in’ when so many images of their role models are falsified? Once the domain of the A list, plastic surgery is normalised every day, with reality television contestants openly admitting to ‘work’ in their twenties.

According to NPC’s Journey to employment (JET) framework, young people with low self-esteem are less likely to attain post-secondary education and to be employed 14 years later. What chance do they have, measuring their reflection against something that is not even real? Do young people think their looks are more valuable than their education, personal skills and career ambitions?

Like fashion, the beauty industry has its phases. During the 90’s, the pale waif was in. How miserable that people are now paying (sometimes with their lives) for bottom and lip implants, fake tans. These are the very things I have as a half South American, but always hated when I was growing up. The online backlash against Renee Zellwegger has been vicious, with spiteful before and after photos and national radio debates.

Well-being matters to the education system and to the health system, and to how well our communities function. And self esteem is an integral part of this well-being. My own father has long said that ‘reading those magazines will make any woman ill’. Although she is denying surgery, Renee does looks different. Perhaps like me, she looked in the mirror and felt a sinking feeling that those lines were deepening.

But I recognise that they are laughter lines, the imprints of a loved life and I for one, am keeping them. Ask me again when I’m 70.

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