Representation is crucial for children’s self confidence

s human beings, we crave acceptance, community, and a sense of belonging. We also, by our very nature, belong to various groups based on our race, gender, faith, sexuality – the list goes on. Here in the UK, our society is relatively diverse, and most people believe those belonging to minority groups are of equal importance, and deserving of equal respect and opportunity.

So why is it that certain kinds of people dominate certain careers or hobbies? Why is UK politics still dominated by white men, when women and people of colour make up such a high percentage of the population as a whole? Why are disabilities made almost invisible in the public eye? And why are children’s toys so needlessly gendered, encouraging young people to stick within the boundaries of arbitrary categories?

There is an incredible feeling of validation in seeing somebody who looks like you doing something that you love. Especially for children, having these role models can deeply affect goals and aspirations. This was seen in a heart-warming tweet recently, when a four-year-old girl exclaimed (about a female referee at a football match) “her hair is like mine, can I be a referee?”

This is a universal feeling for those who are able to see others of their race, faith, or economic background, succeed in their passions; it encourages them to see that maybe it is possible for them to live those passions out as well. Having role models is extremely pertinent for children who have disabilities, particularly very visible ones. Seeing someone in the public eye who unashamedly uses a wheelchair, for example, can have a huge impact in decreasing the stigma and lack of confidence that some people with disabilities feel.

There are several movements that are working for better representation in our society. The Body Positive movement, for example, is pushing for better representation of all bodies, regardless of shape, size, colour, gender or disability.  This translates into social media campaigns such as This Girl Can, into diversity in modelling campaigns, and eventually into reduced pressure placed on people to look or be a certain way. It’s slow progress, but movements like this can make a huge impact, as they affect the visibility and opportunities that can be accessed by under-represented groups.

This is invaluable for children. What they see as ‘normal’ affects what they feel comfortable doing. As with the little girl who saw a female referee and believed that she would be able to do that too, children are taking in the types of people they see on social media and on TV. This affects what they feel they are able to do.  Things that are often trivialised, such as whitewashing in films and the lack of diversity in professional football, are the things that make a difference to the way children view the world and their place in it.

The feeling of solidarity that comes with knowing that there are others like you who are successful has a profound effect; children will feel much more confident in pursuing something if they know that others have gone before them.

Image: Nikita Jha

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