Being the People’s Choice increases my responsibility

I was almost speechless when in the historic Terrace Room of the House of Commons, the cradle of democracy, with the Thames at high tide just outside, my name was announced as the ‘People’s Choice’ at the Body Confidence Awards 2014. I was convinced that I was there to clap Gok Wan that I wobbled up to the stage to receive it, dazed but delighted.

James with Gok Wan

I was delighted to meet Gok!

It was an important night for everyone who believes that Britain needs to wake up to the brewing crisis around body image in today’s society and ‘be real’ in promoting ‘body confidence’ through all available channels – in the media, in advertising, in schools and in all walks of life.

The Campaign for Body Confidence which organised the Awards is revitalising the campaign and to judge by the winners, there are already many great exemplar projects in motion:

  • The Self Esteem Team delivering tailored body confidence lessons for teenagers ages 13 to 18 as well as parents and teachers
  • Girlguiding developing girls’ body confidence, training up 250 peer educators to deliver their ‘Free Being Me’ programme
  • The Jamie Oliver Foundation for ‘making healthy eating cool’ through focused work with schools and communities
  • Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active programme to raise girls’ participation in PE and sport
  • The Guardian for its Body Image column on the website
  • Lancôme and its partnership with Lupita Nyong’o, a non-Westernised, dark skinned, African American woman, sparking debate around beauty
  • ASOS Curve for its understated, quiet, ongoing campaign to promote confidence of women through their affordable, fashionable clothes that they can feel good in
  • Breast Cancer Care for its brave and honest campaign showing mastectomy scars.

And just before my Award, that guru of the body confidence movement, Susie Orbach was honoured – and Radio 1 DJ Jameela Jamil, Gok Wan, and comedian, Juliette Burton wowed the assembled glittering crowd.

My over-riding sentiment as I left the event was of the enormity of the challenge facing us. Face confidence and body confidence don’t grow on trees. They have to be nurtured and strengthened over years and they often mean that people have to swim against the prevailing cultural tides – which encourage in so many people today unhealthy body image risk-taking.

So I will try hard to live up to the faith put in me by the people who voted for me – and I see that as my responsibility. But it is also the responsibility of the beauty industry itself and of opinion leaders in Parliament and the media to challenge the unhealthy and promote body confidence in all they do.

Revisiting ‘The Elephant Man’

It’s more than two years since I blogged on the greatness of Joseph Merrick and John Hurt, two men who helped, in their different ways, to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by those living with an unusual appearance in today’s looks-obsessed world.

I was prompted to look back at that post after Time Out magazine listed a screening of The Elephant Man as one of the ‘great film events’ happening this week in London. The film critic Mark Kermode is to host a screening of this great film at the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley on Friday night. If you haven’t seen the film before, I’d urge you to take ‘time out’ to do so.

The film shows how Joseph Merrick found an advocate in Dr Frederick Treves, played beautifully by Anthony Hopkins. Sadly even 150 years later in today’s so-called sophisticated world people who look different still need those champions. Here at Changing Faces, we hear daily of the tormenting that far too frequently inhibits and diminishes lives – and that’s not helped by the like of Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters.

Sadly, the point I made in my original blog about ‘elephant man’ being a lazy yet incredibly offensive term applied in the playground, in the street and even on television, hasn’t changed. Just last month, the Daily Mail ran a story with just such a headline, and our Press Office stumble upon other such stories every week.

And it’s not only about the terminology. Today we’ve learned of ‘I’, a forthcoming Indian film in which the main villain has a facial disfigurement. Apparently it’s the most expensive Indian film ever made, and yet they rely not on special effects wizardry, but on disfigurement to make their point. Here’s the trailer.

The day will come when an unusual appearance is no longer a writer or director’s easy way out of having to think about their villainous characters, but we’re clearly not there yet. This new film is due for release this autumn, and we’ll look out for screenings in the UK and do our best to raise awareness of our Face Equality on Film campaign.