Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth

I know this post is a tad late considering what triggered this write has now finished – but Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth was such a thought-provoking, eye-opening series that if you didn’t manage to watch it then I suggest you get round to seeing it somehow. It was an hour long programme, shown every Tuesday evening from the 7th February onwards, for three weeks. Gok Wan presented it himself, covering topics which affect body confidence when you’re a teenager – it ranged from eating disorders and bullying to just being different.

The first programme focused on eating disorders which is a subject that touched my heart so much. Gok met a fifteen year old girl and heard her story of how she became anorexic when she was only twelve – and remained that way for two years. She’s slowly recovering from the illness but I find it tragic that kids aren’t allowed to have a childhood any more. They’re being forced to grow up as fast as possible by things which are growing rapidly and dangerously out of control. There was another girl Gok met who spent hours and hours every day, trawling the internet to find pictures of what she thought was “perfection”.

She showed him a photo of a model who was so skinny her legs didn’t meet at the top. Contradict me if you like but I’m sure the majority of people, men and women alike, don’t find bow-legged bodies attractive. I think the media has an enormous part to play in the problems teenagers face today. They portray unrealistic images of celebrities with size zero figures and brainwash us into thinking if you don’t look the same you’re “ugly” and won’t be accepted in society. We’re made to believe small is beautiful, skinny is gorgeous, skeletal is desirable. . . and it’s not. The sad truth is more and more young people are taking what they read in newspapers and magazines, what the see on TV, the internet, as gospel.

Gok took this girl to a photo shoot and let her see the amount of work which went into getting models to look as beautiful as they did in the photos she worshipped. Hair and make-up took several hours, as did finding the right clothes to wear – so far it looked like the story of me trying to get ready to leave the house in the morning! The real interesting part came when the shoot started and a professional photographer took a numerous amount of shots, uploaded them onto a computer and tidivated around with them for ages. To me the pictures of the model already looked amazing, but to get them “media ready” several things had to be altered: The size of her legs were reduced, extra pieces of hair were added to give more volume, the position of both arms were altered to look more streamlined, and her abs were softened so her stomach was smoother and less like a six pac.

I was shocked to be honest with you, I knew images were played around with a bit before being published in the public eye but not to that extent. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone when I say this but most people in pictures you see are only hot because of photo-shop – the teenager Gok took to the shoot realised that too. She cried and said she felt relieved, like she’d been under this constant pressure to look perfect and now she didn’t have to try any more it was a weight off her shoulders. It was great she was seeing the reality of things and not the fantasy but it was also sad. The way she had been thinking before was so so sad.

This brings me onto the subject Gok investigated in his second programme – bullying. He met twins who were picked on because of their size, they even showed him a Facebook page made by their haters branding them the “fat ugly twins”. How cowardly do people have to be to do something like that? As Gok found out cyber bullying is become more and more popular for that reason, you can still be a bully and not be found out. Awful anonymous comments and more can be shared online, causing people to laugh behind your back and you not have a clue why.

This has gone a step beyond passing notes in class, it’s turned into a whole new nasty way to destroy teenagers confidence for good. Gok held a talk in a school and demonstrated how different face to face bullying is to its online partner. He went up to a teacher and said to her “Omigod you’re so tall, your boobs are enormous and your hair’s hideous!!” everyone laughed but he highlighted a valid point – it’s ten times easier to post that as your status on Twitter than to go up to someone and say it to their face.

Ninety nine per cent of us wouldn’t have the bottle to do that but loads of us would and do have the nerve to do it on the internet – which is the big problem. When you know who’s doing the bullying, be it a crowd of people or one individual, you can summon up the courage and get someone to do something about it. But when you don’t have a clue who started the online rumours how on earth do you stop it? How can you control bullying when you don’t know who to confront? You can’t exactly give a hundred teenagers detention for “liking” a hate page can you?

Gok met another girl who was so scared of going to school she had to get her mum to drop her outside the school gates every day – she couldn’t face walking there on her own or getting the bus which is what the other kids, including her bullies, did. She said the abuse was verbal and physical, she’d had her glasses broken, her phone taken from her, been pushed down stairs and been called four-eyes, ugly and shortie, to name a few. Gok couldn’t stop the bullying but he could do something about her self-esteem. She joined a group where mentors help young people get their confidence back and teach them key body language and assertiveness techniques.

I didn’t know this but apparently we’re bred to instantly pick out the weak and the strong, just from the way we walk. If you see someone with their head down, shuffling their feet, avoiding eye contact, it’s an easy target to make fun of. But if you saw a person with their head held high, taking long strides and looking everyone in the eye you’d think twice before having a go. All bullies want is to feel powerful, they want to be in charge – and what better way to do that than to have the ultimate control, of a person and their feelings?

In a world where we get victimised for wearing Converse instead of Vans it’s easy to believe that not conforming to the norm is forbidden and you’ll be punished for not fitting in. We all have to look the same, act the same, determined by class, colour and creed – everything is under constant scrutiny. It’s simple finding that one person who isn’t the same as the rest, the non chameleon who doesn’t blend in – and even easier to bully them day and night. It no longer stops when you step out of the school gates, it goes on 24/7 until teenagers lives are so miserable they think they’re no longer worth living.

The last programme aired was the broadest ranging of all – it was about being different. Whether that meant being gay, having anxiety issues or being a young carer, Gok heard stories of all the former. He helped two teenagers come to terms with their sexuality, one a girl, the other a boy. They had both come out to their friends and family but they both said one of the hardest things to do was coming out to yourself. You can know you’re gay which is fine but it’s a whole different matter knowing it and accepting it – coming to terms with it in your head is even more difficult than telling the people closest to you.

Gok met a young lad who couldn’t walk down the road without someone accompanying him. He had been beaten up once by a gang of chavs and was terrified of it happening again – every time he saw people in hoodies he had a panic attack. He eventually saw a counsellor who helped him with his anxiety and Gok let him meet several teenagers who had the persona he was so scared of. Once he looked past the appearance and started talking to them like he would his friends he realised you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Gok met a family who cared for their disabled dad. I couldn’t get my head around how mature the two sons were, they were only seventeen and thirteen but had both been looking after their dad for eight years – and as such had the mentality of adults. Gok also met a twelve year old girl who had been looking after her mum since she was six, and doing everything her mum wasn’t capable of doing while her dad was at work. She looked years older than she was, worrying about all the things you should only have to stress about when you’re grown-up. It moved Gok to tears, and put in perspective for me how easy my life is. I wake up every morning and don’t have to think about putting another person’s needs before my own, all I have to do is think about my own life – never mind someone else’s. Any kid who cares for someone is an inspiration to us all.

Last of all Gok, along with other teachers, held a body confidence class outside London’s Houses of Parliament. David Cameron, were you watching?! Gok wants to get classes like that introduced to the national curriculum as compulsory and I agree whole-heartedly with him. If teenagers had the opportunity to open up and talk about the every day problems we struggle with we’d soon see we weren’t alone – which is sometimes all you need, to hear other people going through the same thing as you and knowing you’re not on your own.

I’m eighteen years old and know that puberty is one of the toughest times of any person’s life. You’re on a roller coaster which lasts for years and doesn’t finish until your hormones have settled down. You get days when you’re happy, mad, moody, sad, vulnerable, depressed. . . the list is endless. Someone needs to write a survival guide for coping with the teenage years, if that was the case we might have a chance of coming out the other side with our sanity intact! No matter who we are we all deserve to be happy with ourselves, from the inside out. That’s the message Gok is spreading and I’m proud to say I’m with him all the way!

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