Body image, A one woman battle..?
Posted on Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 5:09pm
I read an article today by Kira Cochrane in the Guardian, about the work that the MP Jo Swinson has done on the All party committee on body image.
It states that Jo Swinson’s work has been a ‘one woman battle’ in terms of campaigning for change in this area. Now, for the record, I think the work that Jo Swinson has done on a Westminster level has been highly commendable and neccessary in an age where body images affect our everyday lives in such a profound way- be they negative or positive. Of course it should be an issue that is prioritiesed politically, in terms of how the fashion industry, the plastic surgery industry etc is regulated, and how education is improved.
I went to London last week to talk to YMCA representatives in my capacity as chair of the cross party group on Eating Disorders. The YMCA are the secretariat for the all party group, and they are currently carrying out an inquiry in to body image at Westminster. They are taking evidence from young people, psychologists, teachers, the fashion industry and I will be submitting evidence on behalf of our group before the report makes it final recommendations around March. I wanted to find out how the cross party group on eating disorders that I established back in 2007 could play a part in this investigation, given that we have been working very hard in this field for a long time, and how any recommendations that are devolved would potentially be implemented here in Wales.
Its clear to me, I’m afraid to say, that journalists like Kira Cochrane are either not interested in what happens outside London, or do not put in the journalistic effort in to find out. I say that because I met Kira Cochrane at a Guardian awards ceremony a few years ago, when I was first elected as an AM. She may not remember, but I spoke to her about my cross party group at the time. I am not sure how much she understood devolution, really. I stand to be corrected, of course, but that was my impression…
Perhaps it would be good for her to understand that the cross party group has not only successfully campaigned for the first ever eating disorders framework to be implemented in Wales alongside Government funding for new eating disorders regional officers, which is now in action across local health boards in Wales, but we have met with Ministers to lobby for self esteem and confidence lessons to be placed on the curriculum at schools ( before Gok Wan’s campaign I’ll have you know! ) and are contiuning with this campaign as we speak.
I have also been in to many schools to carry out Dove Self Esteem lessons, so as to talk to young people about their anxieties and fears before it potentially develops in to an eating disorder or confidence issue. A few years ago, as I’m sure many will remember, we held a competition in the Senedd called the campaign for real beauty, where people were asked to take part in a competition, and send in a picture of what they deemed to represent real beauty. We had a successful photograph display at the Senedd with the winners, and the First Minister, alongside highly supportive Western Mail journalist Madeleine Brindley, presented prizes to the winners. The cross party group includes health professionals, young people, carers, anyone who has had an interest in this area.
I remember Beat’s Chief Executive, Susan Ringwood telling me at the launch of the cross party group on eating disorders how difficult it was for them to set up such a group in Westminster at the time, and that Wales was leading the way on eating disorders and body image related matters. It just seems to me that it is very very difficult for us to promote our positive work on an Assembly level with a UK press that doesn’t even have Wales on their radar most of the time, unless said journalist ( such as exceptional journalists like Rob Williams at the Indendent online) has a personal interest in covering Welsh stories ( and this almost always means they are Welsh or have Welsh connections!)
With the rise in discussion regarding Scottish Independence and a referendum during this term of the Scottish Parliament, perhaps this perception of Wales, and engagement with Welsh politicians will change, but it will not change over night. Perhaps we need to be more pro active with UK journalists in promoting our work, that may be so, but I feel a little agreieved that when I have been working on an issue that I am passionate about since I was elected, that my efforts appear to be far from recognised over the border, when they could be taking an avid interest.
On a personal level, I am always keen to look outwards to other countries to see what they are doing in terms of best practise. For example, I visited Glasgow Health Services last year to see what they are doing in the realm of eating disorder provision, as it was hailed as best practise. We need to do much more of this in order to refine what we do, and improve services, so that we will not stand still in the future.
So, my message to Kira Cochrane would be, you are welcome to visit Wales anytime-come and see what we do, and then you will realise, especially in the realm of campaigning over issues such as body image and confidence, that this certainly isn’t a ‘one woman battle’. Many many organisations are part of the ‘battle’ such as Beat, Beat Cymru, the YMCA, Men Get Eating Disoders Too ( MGEDT), Dove Self Esteem, Teachers, youth clubs, YWCA, Anxiety UK and more.. Better to work together and share ideas, don’t you think?…..