Body Stories: How Molly helps us get Body Happy

May 10, 2024

Deakin & Blue Body Happy Swimsuit

We help women find the confidence to feel happy in swimwear. By sharing Body Stories and creating beautiful, comfortable, supportive swimsuits and bikinis, we encourage women to put their body image issues behind them and enjoy being in the water.

But, what if we knew how to support our children and young people to grow up without the body hang-ups that stopped us from wearing the swimwear in the first place? That's what our new collaboration with the Body Happy Org is all about. 

Here, founder, Molly Forbes, talks to Rosie about the body image crisis and how we can all help.


Molly Forbes Body Happy Org Deakin & Blue

Molly, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a mum to two daughters, turned 40 in October last year, and live in Devon near the sea. I love swimming, reading and camping in France in the summer. I’m also the author of two books on body image for parents and kids (Body Happy KidsandEvery Body), and am the founder of a social enterprise called The Body Happy Organisation. 

I’m a journalist by trade and have worked in media and marketing for the past two decades. In 2017 I started using those skills to campaign around the subject of body image in kids, calling for tighter restrictions around the way diet ads are promoted around children and young people, and for parents to be better informed about the National Child Measurement Programme that sees kids weighed in school. 

And what is the Body Happy Org?

We’re a social enterprise working with families, schools and youth organisations to promote positive body image in children and young people through workshops, resources and training. Advocacy is at the heart of everything we do – all of our work is based around helping children and young people know that all bodies are good bodies, and giving them the tools to be friends with their bodies, while treating others whose bodies don’t look or function like their own with respect and kindness.

Why is it important to be having these conversations with children and young adults?

Poor body image is an urgent public health crisis, but it’s one that often gets under-reported. The research tells us that kids can display anti-fat bias as young as three years old, that one in five girls aren’t raising their hand in class due to fear of judgement over how they look, that nearly a quarter of boys are regularly skipping PE due to body image concerns and that more than one in four children in the UK are on diets. Record numbers of children are seeking NHS support for eating disorders, and the WHO reported on a study finding kids in higher weight bodies are 68% more likely to be bullied than their smaller peers. Weight stigma, anti-fat bias and appearance ideals are all inextricably linked and it’s making kids sick – and it’s just getting worse. As adults who are around children, there is so much we can do to help support them – and at the very least not perpetuate the problem – and it all starts with having conversations, with ourselves, each other, and our kids.

Deakin & Blue Body Happy Org collab Body Happy Swimsuit

How do you measure the impact of the work you do?

As a social impact organisation, impact is literally key to everything we do. Body image is quite a hard thing to measure – it’s super nuanced and even if a child is showing positive body image in themselves this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not holding judgements and biases that aren’t having harmful consequences for kids around them who live in bodies that don’t look or function like their own. Despite this, we are up for the challenge and take a really robust approach to impact measurement. 

We’re working this year with The University of Lincoln on a formal peer-reviewed study measuring the impact of a whole-school approach, which involves staff CPD training for all teachers at a secondary school and schemes of work for the classroom. We also do pre and post impact surveys with all of our student workshops too, collecting anonymous data for all of our sessions for kids in year five and upwards. We’re really proud that of the more than 400 children we’ve delivered workshops for so far this year our data shows that 100% of those children improved their understanding around body image literacy, body image resilience techniques and body image advocacy, and there was also a marked increase in the number of kids using only positive words to describe their thoughts and feelings about their bodies. 

Issues around body image are pervasive and have been around for decades. Is it getting better?

Unfortunately not. While we’re getting wiser to the issue and body image has entered mainstream discourse as a concept, the evidence shows that these problems aren’t going anywhere and, if anything, the challenges we’re battling against in order to be friends with our bodies, are just multiplying. 

Two years ago, for example, we were talking about the insidious nature of filters on social media. Now we’re talking about AI generated imagery – so it’s not a case of just recognising filters, it’s a case of identifying if an image is even real in the first place. 

Anti-fat bias and diet culture is still as prevalent as it’s always been, and while we’re more aware of the harms of weight stigma, public policy has largely exacerbated the issue and made it worse rather than better. In 2021 the Women and Equalities Committee released a big report into body image. One of their recommendations within that report was to urgently assess the practise of weighing children in schools (called the NCMP) as they found that 68% of children feel negative about their body most of the time. Three years on and children are still being weighed in school and  we’ve now entered a new era of aggressive marketing for diet pills and injections – with some targeted at kids as young as six. Our view of health and wellbeing is still largely focused on weight, with weight seen as something we can totally control – both in ourselves and our kids – despite all the evidence to the contrary. Ironically, this is causing serious health issues and having a massive impact on kids’ wellbeing.

Deakin & Blue Body Happy Swimsuit

What can parents and grandparents do to help create environments for young people around them to build good relationships with their bodies?

There’s a misconception that we need to have Lizzo levels of body confidence in order to raise body confident kids – and that’s simply not possible for many people. But just removing the body talk from day-to-day conversation can have a really positive impact on the way people around us think and feel about their own bodies, including kids. Using neutral language to talk about bodies, food, movement and health is really key too. 

We need to recognise that some of the messages kids are getting on social media around bodies are actually being reinforced at the dinner table or in the school canteen, and then do our best to remove these messages. This could mean not commenting on what other people are eating, not using morally loaded language around food, and finding other ways to compliment people that aren’t solely focused on the way they look. 

There is so much I could write here (and I did write a full book about this!) but taking that personal accountability is the first piece of the puzzle, I think. I get really tired when I see people blaming social media as the sole reason for kids’ poor body image, because this both abdicates us from any responsibility and disempowers us from actually doing anything in our own homes and schools to make things better. 

When I talk to my friends, it feels (to me at least) that the responsibility of shaping a child's relationship with their body can fall to mums and grandmas. What can and should we be asking men to do to help this important conversation?

If you have a body, you have body image. Body image issues affect people of all genders, yet it’s still seen as this feminine issue, that is yet another piece in the emotional and mental load that mothers have to carry. The research shows that boys are quickly catching up with girls in experiencing poor body image, so whether you’re a dad raising girls, or a dad raising boys, this is still something you need to be aware of. Understanding how societal norms around masculinity – including gym bro fitness culture and misogyny influencers online - impact how men think and feel about their own bodies and the bodies of those around them, is really key to this, I think. 

What in your line of work has shocked you the most?

When I first came to this work, I was naïve to the way anti-fat bias is deeply laced through society and embedded within it. So much of the horror stories I hear often come from a place of ignorance – as someone from a family of teachers, who is married to a teacher, and who works with teachers, I know that teachers are amazing and talented and work really hard. But I also know that they’re doing a tough job in a difficult system, and that they don’t have a huge amount of support in terms of body image and eating disorder prevention training and awareness – and that’s when mistakes happen. 

And when I’m talking about mistakes, I’m talking about things like kids being given homework that involves keeping a food diary and logging every time they eat 'bad' or 'unhealthy' food, kids being lined up for class in size order, kids being forced to do HIIT exercises as part of PE rather than being given opportunities for playful and joyful movement experiences that will build a lifelong love of moving their bodies. That’s before we’ve even got to the fact that four and five year olds are being weighed in school every year, and again in year six – when many are starting to go through puberty and are most vulnerable to body image concerns.

Deakin & Blue Body Happy Swimsuit

And what has inspired you the most?

The children! I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true. I absolutely love going through the impact reporting for our student workshops because it gives me a real insight into the things kids are thinking on this subject, and how our work is making a difference. I also love hearing from amazing teachers who are using our resources in their classrooms and are seeing the positive impact it’s having. One child recently told me “I now know all bodies are good bodies and I’m going to work hard to help everyone else know it too”. I cried when I heard that. 

We are absolutely thrilled to be collaborating with you at D&B. Can you tell us a bit about what the money raised from sales of the Body Happy Suit will be used for?

We’re currently developing the final piece in our whole school framework model which is a peer advocacy programme. Essentially, we want to help the schools we work with set up an ambassador group of Body Happy Heroes to help drive positive change in their school and support the teachers to create an environment where all bodies are equally valued and celebrated. The money raised from sales will help us develop and pilot this programme, and turn it from a pipe dream into a reality.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change for children and young people growing up today?

I’d end the NCMP, make size discrimination illegal and give anyone who needs it quick and lasting access to eating disorder treatment. 

Failing that, I’d make body image a mandatory aspect of teacher training and ongoing CPD, so that educators are given the tools, knowledge and support to help the kids in their care be friends with their bodies. And I’d do this by properly funding initiatives like ours so that schools don’t have to pay for it themselves!

Deakin & Blue Body Happy Swimsuit