In 2017 the Youth Select Committee held an inquiry on tackling negative body image amongst children and young people. I submitted written evidence to the inquiry as the leader of the Young Persons Network (YPN) in Herefordshire, a network I created to give 11-18 year-olds a voice. Once the committee had received my written evidence, I was called forward to give oral evidence in Parliament. The committee felt I could represent a section of young people who had been previously overlooked.
In my oral evidence, I spoke openly and honestly about the following:
- How the ways young people interact with each other on social media can promote negative body image.
- How disabled young people can be bullied because of their appearance.
- Why it is not just about the way you look but about what others can read or see online.
- How young people with disabilities are seen as ‘different’ within society.
- Why disability awareness is needed.
- How young people living with disabilities can have body confidence issues.
Today, I still see body image as an issue, and sometimes I still suffer with body confidence issues because I have a physical disability. However, this hasn’t stopped me speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. The inquiries are a great example of giving young people the opportunity to speak up and hopefully help to change an issue they are passionate about.
The British Youth Council have held eight inquiries to date, with topics including transport, mental health, and work experience. I strongly believe that without these inquiries young people could be stopped from speaking out about important issues that affect and matter to them. If I hadn’t been given the unique opportunity to give evidence on body image, then young people from Herefordshire would not have been heard.
The British Youth Council do incredible work in ensuring that young people across the UK have their voices heard, and have done so for many years by running programmes such as the NHS England Youth Forum, UK Youth Parliament, and more recently, the Bank of England Youth Forum. The Youth Select Committee might just be a small part of this work, but their inquiries are a result of the Make Your Mark ballot, an annual
UK-wide referendum where over a million young people vote.
It was a rare opportunity to speak up to tackle negative body image, and the opportunity started my youth voice journey. Young people really do need the opportunity to be heard by powerful decision-makers, and inquiries are one way to achieve this. My appearance in front of the committee was also an opportunity to put the young people of Herefordshire on the map. I urge all young people to take part should any opportunities such as inquiries arise.
I along with other young people called for ‘A Body Confident Future’ via the Youth Select Committee inquiry back in 2017, and I continue to make this call today in 2021. The impact of these inquiries is obvious as I know that all the young people who participate in the inquiries feel the same as I do about wanting young people to be heard.
Without the support of the British Youth Council staff who take the time to support the young people leading the inquiries, they simply wouldn’t happen. For that reason alone, I would like to thank all those involved. Every year, the British Youth Council runs the Make Your Mark ballot to give all those 11 to 18 year olds the opportunity to vote on the issues that matter to them. The committee chooses one of the top three issues that are highlighted to investigate further. For example, in 2017, the committee chose to look at body image.
When I decided to write this blog about the impact of the Youth Select Committees, I really wanted to get across the positive effect that speaking up and being part of the big discussions can have on young people. The young people who are called to give oral evidence are those who are passionate about the topic which comes across in their written evidence and the oral evidence sessions. When I wrote and gave my evidence to the 2017 inquiry I believe that my passion for this topic really came across and I could really see this when I watched the recording back recently.
I also provided a written submission to the inquiry on work experience in 2018 as this is another area which I am both passionate about and have a lot of experience in. The Youth Select Committee inquiries allows us to look deep into the issue, and ensures the reasons for change are highlighted in the committee’s report.
I would urge the British Youth Council to continue running these inquiries each year as they really do have a positive impact on the lives of young people especially those who are involved and I believe that I am a shining example of this.