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Body Confidence in Young People

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 26 November 2015

The Government have continued the work started under the coalition Government to encourage body confidence with the aim of promoting young people’s media literacy and resilience, supporting good practice and raising awareness. For example, in March we started work with the PSHE Association to publish guidance on teaching about body image using accredited resources.

Next week, models, agents, academics and professionals are coming to Parliament to discuss what the fashion industry can do to lead the way in promoting positive healthy ideals for young people. Does my hon. Friend agree that a collaborative approach is essential if we are to tackle the issue of low body confidence and lack of self-esteem that affects too many young people?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fantastic work that she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on body image. She has been a fantastic champion on this important issue and she is absolutely right that effective change will be achieved only by co-operation and collaboration. I recently met the British Fashion Council and the campaign group All Walks Beyond the Catwalk to discuss how we can make this happen for the good of those who are in the fashion industry, those who aspire to it and, most importantly, those who are influenced by it.

I was very pleased that the Minister mentioned personal, social, health and economic education. Is it not the case that establishing good-quality PSHE on a statutory basis in all schools will help instil good body confidence in young people and also keep them safe from inappropriate relationships, which often happen when children and young people have low self-esteem?

The fact that a subject is a statutory requirement does not mean that it is taught well, and we want all schools to put high-quality PSHE education at the heart of their curriculum so that all young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. The majority of schools and teachers already recognise the importance of good PSHE education and naturally know that healthy, resilient and confident pupils are better placed to achieve academically and fulfil their potential in life.

As the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) will know, it is frequently thought that this problem only affects young women, but it affects boys and young men as well. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that she has not lost sight of that and tell us a little more about what the Government are doing in that regard?

My hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point. There is even a name for the problem; it is called “manxiety”. We are not blind to the fact that this issue affects an increasing number of young men and boys, which is reflected in the worrying increase in the use of steroids. That is why the Government’s body confidence work is blind to gender and tackles the problem by dealing equally with boys and girls.

Part of body confidence can be better understanding of what our bodies are for. What will the Minister do to promote breastfeeding in the PSHE curriculum?

It is up to schools to decide; we do not want to give them a prescriptive list or tell them how to teach PSHE. As I said, we want our young people to leave school prepared for life in modern Britain, with a resilient and healthy attitude to life, and breastfeeding is clearly a strong part of that.