Activists, health professionals, educators and politicians have long campaigned to get low self-esteem and body confidence recognised as a public health issue for girls and women around the world.
While awareness has gradually increased, research indicates that girls and women are more anxious about their beauty and appearance than ever before, and are facing a flood of pressures driven by a 24/7 media culture, Insta-fame and ‘perfect’ beauty filters.
That’s why this month we published Dove’s most comprehensive academic study to date on the issues of self-esteem and beauty confidence among girls. We spoke to 5,165 girls aged between 10 and 17 across 14 countries to find out how pressure about the way they look affects their lives. And the results are anything but benign.
Why 80% of girls are opting out
We found that 8 out of 10 girls with low body esteem will ‘opt out’ of activities such as seeing friends and family, or trying out for a team or club. Seven in 10 will not be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision. And another 7 in 10 will put their health at risk by avoiding the doctor or skipping meals. The result is a looming gap left by potential female leaders who have instead opted out.
A girl’s level of body esteem directly impacts on how she sees the world. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that girls with high body esteem are more resilient to life’s pressures. In our research, 65% of girls with low body esteem told us they felt worse about themselves when they looked at images of ‘beautiful girls’ in magazines, versus just 16% for girls with high body esteem.
But the media doesn’t have our girls entirely under its spell. The report found that girls are becoming far more aware of the influence of the media – and they’re looking for ways to drive change. We found that 69% of all girls think the images they see in the media are digitally altered. And 70% agree there is too much importance placed on beauty as a source of happiness.
The importance of intervention
Perhaps most importantly, the report uncovers how ‘anxiety cliffs’ – or pressure points often driven by appearance anxiety and magnified by other life pressures – can appear as girls transition from adolescence into adulthood, and leave a lasting impact on their wellbeing.
We found that girls aged 10–17 have significantly higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction than girls aged 18 and above, proving the need for proactive intervention and support for girls at this particular stage in life.
The research shows us that girls are asking for change and already taking steps towards it by seeking out new female role models, using social media to express their individuality, and boldly declaring their pride in being female. We want to encourage girls to continue these conversations among peers, parents, teachers and mentors.
Empowering millions of young people
This is the thinking behind the Dove Self-Esteem Project. For more than ten years, we’ve worked with body image experts to develop and parents, mentors, teachers and youth leaders to deliver self-esteem education to more than 20 million young people so far. We’re committed to reaching 20 million more by 2020, empowering the potential leaders of tomorrow to reach their full potential in life and grow up in a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety.