In the era when “fake news” and self-appointed social influencers can move the masses through digital content, it can be tough to break through with stories that shape and change the way decision-makers think about advocating for conditions that support optimal body confidence for youth. Despite recent attempts to discredit science for political reasons, your expertise as a public health professional is still influential and can be amplified through media advocacy.
Your key decision-makers are influenced by all sorts of media, whether they admit it or not. Media advocacy is about using the media to get key decision-makers to think differently about your issue. Hard news and opinion pieces – including blogs and columns – can be effective ways to influence decision-makers. Check out this column from the Boston Globe to see the power of a story well told. Sometimes good media advocacy does not even mention the proposed legislation but frames the problem in such a way that inspires a call to action. News coverage that highlights the prevalence of eating disorders among young people is going to have to cut through the clutter by offering a perspective that is timely and surprising.
More than data, personal stories are often the one thing that can transform a good campaign into a great campaign. There are a lot of great storytelling tools out there and one of our favorites is Storytelling and the Power of Making Headlines, from M+R Strategic Services. It lays out the five must-have elements of a newsworthy story. Here is a worksheet to go along with this tool.
Click below for key messages that will cut through the clutter:
Highlight how different it is to grow up these days with the internet.
Highlight how different it is to grow up these days with the internet. This is more than just a kid thing that we all went through growing up. The pressure to meet beauty and body standards today is greatly magnified by social media and influencers. The effect of the internet on young people’s self-image today cannot be overstated.
Present this legislation as the first step of a bigger policy package
Present this legislation as the first step of a bigger policy package. Keeping in mind that people view this problem as intractable, we do not want to present one piece of legislation as the ultimate solution. Rather, we need to communicate that we do not expect to solve the entire problem with one or two standalone policies, but that the proposed legislation is the first step as part of a bigger policy package.
Point out that altered ads show up in a significant way on social media
Point out that altered ads show up in a significant way on social media. Because people view social media as such a significant part of the problem today, it is important to note how advertising through social media is part of the problem – through “photoshopped” advertisements and the use of celebrity influencers to peddle weight loss products and muscle-building supplements.
Note that while girls are at particular risk of the health threats that come from unrealistic and biased body and beauty ideals, NO KID is immune
Note that while girls are at particular risk of the health threats that come from unrealistic and biased body and beauty ideals, NO KID is immune. It is important to highlight that these are serious problems that goes well beyond the stereotype of young, straight white girls. Children of all genders, sexual minorities, and Black and Brown communities are impacted by eating disorders, sometimes at even higher rates – and highlighting these messengers in the media is important.
Focus on how weight loss products and supplements are unsafe for youth and a gateway to steroid use and eating disorders
Focus on how weight loss products and supplements are unsafe for youth and a gateway to steroid use and eating disorders. Over the counter weight loss products and muscle-building supplements are not regulated by the FDA, not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for youth use, and can lead to increased risk of steroid use and eating disorders.
Good media advocacy can be fun, provocative, and emotional. It can feature stories of young people who have struggled with eating disorders, student athletes made ill because of poorly regulated muscle-building supplements, and personal profiles that take a hard look at the ways media and digital distortion contribute to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. Along with traditional news coverage, social media can generate interest with polls, quizzes, photos, infographics, and even paid advertising. Blogs and podcasts can be quick ways to get information in front of decision-makers. Letters to the editor can be another effective way to reach decision makers through the media with your message. Here is a great tool for developing a letter to the editor from M+R Strategic Services. Use STRIPED’s Fact Sheets and Talking Points to help craft your letter and stay on message.
Do not be afraid to get creative…
Students and adult survivors of eating disorders can be powerful communicators and sometimes the way they describe their own truth is the best proof that something needs to be done. Young people can create vivid photo stories on Instagram detailing the ways that the diet industry works to manipulate children. They can use spoken word contests, poetry slams, essays and other artforms to make their point, the results of their creative truth-telling should be shared with the media that can get it in front of key decision-makers – and it never even has to mention the legislation. Just make sure you are inclusive in your search for messengers, as this issue impacts a diverse set of youth who should be represented in advocacy work. Find additional powerful tools for effective media advocacy here.