The annual Girlguiding Girls' Attitudes Survey gives us valuable insights into how our young girls feel about themselves, their bodies and growing up in today's society. Sadly it's also something I dread reading, because it is, without fail, a damning reflection of how that society is undermining our daughters' body confidence.
This year's survey reveals a five-year decline in girls' body confidence — 36 per cent of 7- to 10-year-old girls say people make them feel like the most important thing about them is the way they look. Of the 1,500-plus young people surveyed, 40 per cent of that same age group feel they aren't pretty enough; 25 per cent believe they need to be "perfect"; and 1 in 6 of them feels ashamed or embarrassed about their appearance.
Almost 40 per cent of girls aged 7 to 21 aren't happy with how they look. In 2011, the figure was 27 per cent.
The message couldn't be clearer: Girls and young women in the U.K. feel they are being held back by gender stereotypes and sexism. They are anxious about their appearance, to the point where it's affecting all aspects of their lives. They are trying to overcome double standards and fight for roles that aren't open to them because they are female.
Young girls and women who are unhappy with their appearance are at greater risk of mental health issues, which can have serious long-term consequences on their careers and relationships as well as cement a negative body image that can be extremely difficult to correct.
Yet they're facing a mammoth battle. They need to find the strength to ignore the ubiquitous airbrushing in their world. To rise above the constant judgment on how they compare to the ridiculous (and unattainable to the majority) beauty standards peddled by the media. The survey reveals that 37 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 compare themselves to celebrities most of the time or often.
What can we, as parents, do to help our girls challenge the unfairness? We can't take away the internet or change media stereotypes. But we can focus on the positives of the Girlguiding survey. Yes, it's not all doom and gloom. It's clear that girls and young women are using the internet to make their views heard, shining a light on sexism and joining forces to demand change. We can help them by starting conversations about strong, brave, creative women (both now and from the past), encouraging them to question and challenge sexism wherever they may find it and by focusing on their inner qualities and skills instead of their appearance.
And we can do the same with our sons. Because raising boys to become fair, respectful men who believe in gender equality is a crucial part of bucking these alarming trends.
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