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Why Thinking You're Ugly is Bad For You And Everyone

With decades of gender equality initiatives and the widespread groundswell for women's empowerment, is this what we really want for our next generation of women?
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When does it stop being okay to love how we look? That's the question Meaghan Ramsey* asks in a recent TEDTalk which was posted online early last week. As of this blog post, there are almost 650 thousand views and more than 400 comments across and YouTube. Why did this "talk" receive so much attention basically overnight? Because the title of her speech strikes a chord with people personally -- we can all relate to some aspect of our physical appearance that we don't like, and may even want to change.

Hope Freedman: I was reminded of Meaghan's opening story about her 1-year-old niece giving kisses to herself in the mirror when I spent time recently with a friend's 2-year-old daughter. As the toddler twirled in her dress, my "aha" moment was: self-esteem and body confidence start as young as a 2-year-old.

Carol Cone: When I first heard this TEDTalk live, what surprised me was the fact that body confidence impacts our economy. Women hold on to these negative self-perceptions as they become adults. Women who perceive themselves as overweight have a higher absenteeism at work; some would not attend a job interview if they felt bad about their appearance. It appears that women's level of body confidence contributes to job performance and earning potential -- who knew how far issues of body confidence could reach? With decades of gender equality initiatives and the widespread groundswell for women's empowerment, is this what we really want for our next generation of women?

Hope Freedman: This TEDTalk certainly opened my eyes. Now I feel that our society is facing a global "crisis" of profound, deep-rooted self-doubt in young girls, in particular, that has pervasive and long-lasting negative effects. The way adolescent girls perceive their appearance can undermine academic performance. The damaging effects of low body confidence and low self-esteem in young girls range from less physical activity and unhealthy weight control behaviors to greater risk of depression and self-harm.

Carol Cone: So much of our cultural attitudes and behaviors are negative and self-deprecating. One nasty comment on Twitter or Facebook can send a young girl's self-perception on a downward spiral. Further, cyber hate and cyberbullying have become other devastating culprits that counteract body confidence in adolescent girls and boys. Being online 24/7 is wreaking mental havoc on our younger generation. I find this heart-wrenching.

It Takes A Village

In her TEDTalk, Meaghan presented key ways she and her colleagues have learned to take action -- that lead to sustainable impact -- after 10 years of the Dove Self-Esteem Project:

  • Educate for body confidence. Encourage nurturing and supportive conversations and behavior. The influence of family, friends, and other relationships is essential for how boys and girls, men and women treat each other especially in relation to "body talk." Help teens develop lasting strategies to overcome appearance-related stresses.

  • Be a better role model. In a media and celebrity obsessed society -- with size zero models, airbrushing and online trends such as #thighgap and #thinspiration -- each of us needs to help teens' discern what is real as they try to "fit in" with their peers. Let's change the status quo by stepping up ways to teach by example. The frequent one-to-one conversations can matter. Remember what it was like to be that age?
  • Collaboration throughout our society. Communities, governments, businesses and other organizations need to work together to influence the above contributing factors and help revert the negative effects of a constantly changing culture, online and offline media messages, personal relationships and so on. Further, extensive collaboration through public-private partnerships is also critical to scale-able sustainable impact.
  • It's up to every one of us -- women and men -- to be astutely conscious of the way we talk, to change the negative conversation, to promote individual beauty inside and out, to admire differences, and to truly embrace our own personal presentation to the world. We should all feel accountable for the messages we endorse through various channels. Communication takes many forms.

    Every individual effort matters to create change. It should never be okay to stop loving how we look.

    * Edelman client