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How self-esteem is linked to better health decisions


Our Dove Self-Esteem Project has helped 29 million young people build body confidence. Now we are pioneering a new approach in South Africa.

Stacie June Shelton

Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2018 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, purpose and drive.

Since 2004 the Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP) has been helping young people all around the world build self-esteem and body confidence.

“Our mission is to ensure that young people have a positive relationship with how they look and help them reach their full potential,” explains Stacie June Shelton, Global Head of Education and Advocacy, Dove Self-Esteem Project, and one of the 2018 Heroes with Impact. “We focus on the 11–14 year old age group because this is when a lot of the body image issues are starting.”

To date, the Dove Self-Esteem Project has reached 29 million young people as it rolls out its mission for improved body confidence.

But could it go beyond its original concept and impact public health?

Stacie thought so. “My background is in public health and I really wanted to get involved in the Dove Self-Esteem Project,” says Stacie.

She thought about the impact that teaching body confidence might have if it were also delivered outside the current DSEP programme and developed the hypothesis that building a young person’s self-esteem and body confidence would lead to better health decisions and the reduction of risk behaviour – that leads, for example, to exposure to HIV/AIDS.

So she adapted the Dove teaching material for children in a semi-urban area in South Africa. She tested the results and persuaded the Global Fund, an NGO that fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, to include body confidence education in their adolescent health programmes for HIV prevention in South Africa.

This is the first time that the Dove Self-Esteem Project has received external co-funding support.

“And this has the potential to scale up, not only in South Africa but beyond to other countries that the Global Fund is present in to perhaps a million young people. Whether it’s HIV/AIDS prevention, economic opportunities, employment opportunities, it’s so impactful across so many different areas of life,” says Stacie.

There are benefits to Dove too. This co-funding support raises the profile of the body image issue, and positions the brand purpose DSEP as a viable programme and solution for adolescents. It has resulted in increased credibility for DSEP and awareness for Dove among consumers that comes with the visible support from a respected NGO as well as government partners. But in the end, for Stacie, it was primarily about the desire to “always be making a positive impact on the world and look at life through that lens”.

Watch this short video to hear more from Stacie

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