Girls are increasingly worried about their appearance and the pressure to be perfect, according to this year’s annual report from the Children’s Society, produced with researchers from the University of York.
Among the sample of 10 to 15-year-old girls surveyed, the researchers found that 14% are unhappy with their lives as a whole, and 34% with their appearance. This is an increase on the previous year, when 11% said they were unhappy with their lives and 30% with their appearance.
Some respondents cited social media as a particular influence, with girls more active than boys on sites like Facebook and other platform. But the rise of the popularity of ‘celebrities’ and their newsworthiness was also mentioned by girls, who felt they could not attain the “perfect” looks of females featuring in many TV shows and in magazines.
The proportion for boys remained the same, with 11% saying they were unhappy with their lives as a whole and 20% with their appearance.
The report highlighted other differences between boys and girls. Boys aged 10 and 11 were less happy than girls with their school work and more likely to demonstrate conduct and attention/hyperactivity problems. Girls experienced anxiety and depression significantly more than the boys and became increasingly unhappy with their appearance as they got older. This also fits with the idea that girls tend to internalise feelings and not communicate them easily.
It’s a pretty staggering situation when a fifth of boys below the age of 16 are unhappy with the way they look, but when more than a third of the girls are troubled by this, it’s something we need to take very seriously.
The mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people, and especially girls, is already a cause for concern, as highlighted by another recent report. But now those working with very young girls – in nurseries and children’s centres – are reporting that these children are more conscious of the way they look than ever before, and are showing signs of anxiety in this regard.
It’s all too easy to remark on how pretty a little girl looks, especially if she’s dressed up in a special outfit . But does constantly mentioning this reinforce a belief that appearance is more important that ability, kindness or intelligence?
The media is surrounding us with images of physical female perfection and telling us this should be the norm.
This needs to be debunked and countered by parents, teachers and young people themselves. Not only do we need more realistic visual role models (as opposed to super models) but we need to value the really important attributes of our fellow human beings and not the superficial and often artificially-enhanced ones. And we need to encourage children and young people to value themselves for these attributes and build their confidence and self-esteem for what is within them, not what is on the outside.
The story as covered by the BBC is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37223063
The whole report can be requested here http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/resources-and-publications/download-the-good-childhood-report-2016