Cork teens campaign against negative body image

  GIRLS ALOUD:  the message of Cork schoolgirls Majda Put, Alison Ring, Amy Cunningham and Ali Brady (with teacher, Vanessa O'Neill) is that looks are not everything. Below: Sr Stanislaus Kennedy. Picture: Des Barry

SCHOOLGIRLS in Cork City are teaching their peers that looks are not all-important and to be happy in themselves.

The Mount Mercy students’ transition-year project is entitled ‘Don’t Let the Wrecking Ball Wreck You’, a reference to singer Miley Cyrus’s hyper-sexual music video and the often negative impact of pop culture on the young.

Ali Brady (16) and Magda Put (16) are two of the 29 girls in the transition year. Both say that young people are constantly being told that appearance is everything. “Young people are made think that beauty is about being skinny and dressing a certain way. We want them to realise that you don’t need to be the best looking to be beautiful,” says Ali.

Mount Mercy is an all-girls school, and appearance is more of an issue for girls than for boys. Madga says: “Boys don’t pay as much attention to how they look as girls do, so girls are more susceptible to these messages.”

Both Ali and Magda say that the messages girls receive, at an early age, from pop culture, about their appearance and the need to be sexually attractive, are potentially very damaging.

The project is part of the Young Social Innovators programme, under the guidance of art teacher, Vanessa O’Neill.

YSI is a national initiative founded by Sr Stanislaus Kennedy (of Focus Ireland) and Rachel Collier, which encourages young people to change their world for the better.

“We always begin by doing some research on various social issues that affect young people,” says Vanessa. “But it’s the girls themselves who pick the subject they want to focus on.”

The schoolgirls have set up an online petition, calling on the people of Cork to ban child-beauty pageants in the county.

The girls say that beauty pageants have negative effects on children, as they stress looks, glamour and often provocative attire. These children are being taught to concentrate too much on external beauty, and this hinders the development of internal values.

Ali and Magda believe such beauty pageants have no place in Cork.

The lyrics of songs are another element of pop culture that greatly concern the schoolgirls. Following a survey within the school, the girls discovered that many students “don’t think at all about what they are singing, even when the lyrics are very sexually explicit,” says Ali.

So a lot of these messages are being repeated subconsciously. Ali says that’s why this project is both interesting and important, because “it’s great to be able to make students in our school aware of this stuff.”

The Mount Mercy girls will also be conducting a vox pop outside the school, to gauge the reaction from the public. And they will have a poster campaign within the school, with the core message of ‘Lead, don’t Follow’.

Ali would like to study pharmacology when she finishes school, and Magda has a passion for English, which she says may lead her into journalism. Vanessa is very proud of the work being undertaken by the young women. “I work in a really great school and this is a great initiative. The girls here all have great passion when they believe in something,” she says.

* The Mount Mercy TY petition is at: for Mount Mercy)


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