Boosting teenage body image – Jemima Small takes on the world

One of the things I wanted to do in Body Brilliant is to point readers towards other books that might be powerful in boosting empathy and understanding. So, most chapters have a little list at the end. One of the books which I most highly recommend is a brand new novel by UK author, Tamsin Winter: Jemima Small Versus The Universe, published by Usborne. Jemima’s name is small but her body is big and, at the start, that’s a problem. But her brain is big, too, and that should be much more important. Can she make that happen and whose brains will she change along the way?

A few weeks ago, I saw that Tamsin had made headlines not for her book, which is definitely worth headlines, but because she had shared on social media her dismay and anger at the adverts she saw on her 13-year-old niece’s social media feed. A major chapter in Body Brilliant covers the role that social media and the whole online world might play in self-esteem about body image, so I asked Tamsin if she’d write about her feelings about what she saw on her niece’s feed and I’d put it on my blog. And that’s what she’s done.

(NOTE to publicists and others: I do not host guest posts so please don’t ask me! I don’t review books, either. I get emails almost daily asking me to share/host/post/read/promote someone else’s writingand I ignore them all. I don’t have time to reply and usually it’s really obvious the person hasn’t read my website properly. They then send follow-up emails asking why I haven’t responded. 

I do recommend books when I utterly love them but this would never be when it has been pushed at me or sent to me on spec. I invited Tamsin to write this short piece because I came across her book, loved it and chose to approach her about it; I was delighted she accepted.) 

Tamsin did generously write more for me and I agreed wholeheartedly with all she said. But the points she made are covered in Body Brilliant so I’ve focused, with her permission, on the parts that tell her specific story.


Tamsin’s experience and thoughts

Ever since I first began writing Jemima Small Versus the Universe, I’ve had body image on my mind. I’ve been reflecting on my attitude towards my own body and how it’s changed over the years. But I’ve also been conscious of the thousands of images I see on a daily basis that tell me my body isn’t good enough the way it is. 

It’s there when I scroll through my social media feed. Adverts featuring flawless women promising me perkier eyelids, more radiant skin, thinner thighs, a better life. It’s no different from the kind of adverts I’d probably see if I picked up a magazine aimed at women, which I actually stopped buying almost a decade ago. 

I was interested in seeing what my 13-year-old niece’s social media feed looked like. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what she showed me. Beauty ad after beauty ad, specifically targeted at young teenage girls. Hair dye, jewellery, clothes, make up. But it wasn’t just the products that saddened me; it was the way the girls in the adverts were being presented. Vacant looks, passive stances, indoors, posed. Not one of them was doing anything. One model was clutching boxes of hair dye like they were life-saving medicines. The message they were giving her was loud and clear: how you look is far more important than what you can do.

It makes me really sad that teenage girls are being targeted with sponsored ads like this. At a time when we know they are vulnerable in terms of self-esteem and body confidence. We are still telling them their
bodies are inadequate the way they are. We are still telling them they need to change the way they look. Only now we are telling them more frequently. [Ed: this is key.] The average teenager spends between 1 and 3 hours a day on social media.

Imagine if the messages they were given told them their bodies are precious and strong and amazing. If they told them what they can do will always matter more than how they look. That it’s what’s inside your heart that really counts.


Imagine indeed!

Thank you, Tamsin. I absolutely loved Jemima Small Versus The Universe. It’s pitch-perfect and delightfully nuanced, with characters I really believed in. I hope lots and lots of young readers get to meet Jemima and be empowered by her. Size isn’t everything, except in brains.

I’m at the Edinburgh Book Festival with Body Brilliant on August 22nd at 2pm. Anyone in Edinburgh then, please come! I will have posters for schools and pledge postcards for all.

 

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