Inspiration comes from all kinds of places, but positive role models are one of its most powerful sources.
With 24/7 news, reality television and more gossip columnists than you can count, we see thousands of potential role models everywhere and every day.
It’s something I am so much more aware of since becoming a parent. I look at how women are presented individually and generally, and I wonder what that could teach my child.
Of course both sexes will be role models to my children, but because they are girls I believe they will inevitably look to their own gender group more and emulate what they see.
Too often these days I am left worried that when they watch television or engage with social media, they will think their looks are their most important gift and they should strive to perfect them.
For me it’s not a question of whether there are enough bright, talented and fierce women to look up to today, it’s how they’re portrayed.
I wrote recently about the tendency for celeb stories to focus on “post-baby bodies“, including Amal Clooney who I believe has way more to celebrate than just snapping back into shape after having twins.
Now, I’m not saying I’m not guilty of pouring fuel on the fire with this problem.
Take Love Island, my guilty pleasure over the summer. It’s a brilliant, brain dead, no thought required programme. It’s like watching a nature documentary about mating, but with humans.
However, it reduced the Love Island girls, who had a lot of brains, drive and talent, to nothing more than sexual objects.
I know I’m guilty of encouraging this, I’m one of the millions who tuned in and loved it as the girls and boys fell out, spoke about dumb things and churned out catchy slogans.
But I would argue the show was delivering what it said on the tin – light-hearted entertainment, a dating reality show. It’s when women are reduced to nothing but looks in their every day lives that I object.
Women who have a voice, something amazing to say, an incredible talent to shout about are reduced to a picture caption pointing out their boobs are saggy, they look awful without makeup and they’ve “embraced their curves”, which we know is a roundabout way of saying they put on weight.
Over the summer the brilliant and funny Stacey Solomon posted a video while on holiday of herself pointing out all the parts of her summer beach body that others might find fault with.
She hilariously mocked her supposed “imperfections” to help encourage young girls to be proud of their bodies and comfortable in their own skin.
It caused a media storm after going viral.
And yet by the next day once again social media and celebrity gossip had turned back to all-but ranking famous women based on their looks.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence is one of my heroes. I think she’s funny, talented and a brilliant role model for young girls. She says what’s on her mind, stands up for herself and isn’t afraid to laugh at herself too.
Yet nearly all coverage of her latest film is centred on how “flawless” her complexion was at the premiere, how great her figure was in her designer dress and how stunning her hair looked.
I get that it’s a picture story and you have to describe what’s in the picture. The problem is these things are ALL about the looks, with so little exploration of any further detail.
She’s made a powerful movie, but who cares about that, what is she wearing?
I’m not naive. I know that Hollywood stars and other celebrities dress to turn heads and get headlines. Publicity keeps their pay high.
I just hate how relentlessly this shallow image of success is churned out day after day.
Cate Blanchett has confronted it best by refusing to answer “who she’s wearing” at red carpet events, asking journalists if they would ask men the same question.
I just worry its all got too much. We’re confronted with the shallow, flawless beauty image so frequently that it begins to look like it’s all there is to life.
It also gives young girls the wrong impression that this sort of beauty is attainable. Often it has been achieved through a lot of clever lighting and airbrushing.
Its scary the kind of thing this can encourage. Eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety. And for what? To look perfect.
We all know there is no such thing as the perfect face or figure. Even supermodels have flaws and things they don’t like about themselves.
When I look at the world around me now I can’t help but picture how my girls will fit into it when they have flown the nest.
Obviously this is a long way in the future, but what will they be like, what will they become and will they seize every opportunity presented to them.
What I hope for them is:
They will find a hobby they love and pursue it.
They will find a talent and practice it.
They will find friends who like them for who they are.
They will find someone to love them fiercely.
They will find a fulfilling career they love.
They will be happy in their own skin.
And I hope they will see the amazing female role models – the Olympians, the scientists, the teachers, the doctors, the volunteers, the fundraisers, the marathon runners, the politicians, the entertainers – and recognise that beauty is only skin deep.
What do you think? Are female role models not given enough of a platform? Are we shown too many images of “perfect women” while also being shown images of women not looking their best with every flaw criticised? I would love to hear what you think.