A NATIONAL campaign to inspire confidence in young people was launched today.
And two local teenagers were to the fore of the project, launched in London by Huddersfield businesswoman and charity worker Kate Hardcastle.
Positive Image, which aims to provide ‘real life’ mentors and role models to champion the next generation, was born from Kate’s childhood experiences of being bullied.
“Bullies made my life a misery at school because of the way I looked.
“There is so much emphasis today on looks and image. Our recent study of 500 students from three further education colleges has shown that some students think their looks are more important than family, friends and their future.
“More than 90% of girls aged 15 to 17 want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance. Girls’s self-esteem peaks at the age of nine.”
Former Salendine Nook High School pupil Alisha Bi was keen to support the Positive Image campaign after experiences of childhood bullying.
“We moved around a lot, so I went to a few schools. I was always the new girl and my skin colour was a big issue,” said Alisha, 18, who is now a student at Calderdale College.
“There was quite a lot of racial abuse – one boy told me I had mud on my face. But I don’t get it at all now.”
Alisha, who lives in Lindley and is in her final year of a BTEC in business studies, has ambitions to go to university and then start her own business.
She has been inspired by family members who have become successful businessmen.
“You should be confident about who you are and how you look shouldn’t matter,” she says, “although obviously in business it’s important to dress smartly for work.”
“I think it’s better to be inspired by someone who has worked hard and achieved something than by someone who is just admired for their looks.”
Wesley O’Neill, 17, from Elland, however, says his confidence is affected by how he looks.
Speaking at the campaign launch he said: “If I don’t feel I look good then I won’t go out.
“I’m confident when I’m with my friends but for me I need to know I look good to feel better about myself.”
An electrical installation student at Calderdale College, he says that he doesn’t worry about his appearance as much as he used to but admits being influenced by celebrities and television shows such as the X Factor.
Kate, whose business consultancy Insight with Passion is based at Huddersfield’s Media Centre, has found mentors from the worlds of education, business, sport, the media and design and asked them to post their stories on a new website, www.timetolookbeyondthemirror.co.uk. The website will offer help and advice to young people.
In our celebrity-obsessed and image-conscious society Kate believes there is a real need for “down-to-earth” role models. Among those she has signed up as ‘The Voices’ on the website are Eve Pollard, the second woman ever to edit a national newspaper; Wayne Hemingway, founder of designer label Red or Dead; Diane Modhal, a middle distance runner; and Baroness Grey-Thompson, television presenter and former wheelchair racer.
Kate said: “I was inspired by my daughter Nya to do something about what is an epidemic that affects fashion, retail and the media.
“I don’t want her growing up in a world that only values people because of the way they look.”