15 Mar 2018

Breaking beauty stereotypes for teens

From Nine To Noon, 11:26 am on 15 March 2018

How do teenagers navigate messages bombarding them every day about what they should look like?

Marketing images encourage them to be thinner, more tanned, more sophisticated, blemish-free and sexier.

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Photo: supplied

Angela Barnett, writer and founder of the body positivity website Fabik, worked in the marketing industry for 15 years.

She says the trillion-dollar-plus beauty and fashion industry is bombarding teens with images, many of which are unattainable.

Barnett developed a talk called Pretty Smart on how the industry works, and how to spot what's real and what's not, which she's taking into schools.

Angela Barnett

Angela Barnett Photo: Supplied

She says if children are taught how advertising and media works, they're less affected by it.

“All it takes is a walk to the mall to see the kind of images that I talk about in these talks,” Barnett says.

“You just walk past a pharmacy and these massive billboards of flawless faces and it just helps if you … understand how that was made.”

She gives her talk to 11-13 year olds. “We’ve even had requests from some primary schools for Year 6,” she says.

Model Cameron Russell tackled the subject in her Ted Talk, and among the images Barnett shows are those of Russell as a teenager and in professional photos taken around the same time in which she’s “unrecognisable as the same person”.

She points out professionally curated images on sites like Instagram.

Everyone goes through a selfie phase, she says, but with one selfie you’ll get a hundred opinions on what you look like.

She encourages girls to use social media channels as their view on the world – “far more interesting” than thinking of it as the world’s view of them.

She also show the positive examples, and at the end of the talk gives them “homework’ – to write down three things they like about their own bodies, so whenever anyone has a negative they can go back to aspects of themselves that make them feel individual and unique.