Girls fear criticism for being themselves

27 August 2020

  • Girlguiding Advocates “call out pressure for girls to look perfect as apps, filters and online ads knock girls’ confidence”
  • Two out of five (39%) girls and young women aged 11-21 said they feel upset that they can’t look the way they do online
  • Half (48%) of girls and young women aged 11-21 disclosed they regularly use apps or filters to make photos of themselves look better online

Appearance pressures through exposure to online adverts and images portraying perfection, are having a detrimental impact on the confidence and wellbeing of girls and young women - with many turning to apps and filters to seek acceptance, according to early findings of Girlguiding’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Despite 92% of girls aged 11-21 saying girls and young women shouldn’t feel pressured to change the way they look, the new research revealed:

  • More than half (54%) of girls said they have seen online adverts that have made them feel pressured to look different, and this is higher (67%) for girls who identify as LGBQ
  • Although most girls (65%) are likely to use apps and filters on their photos because it’s fun and creative, half (48%) of girls and young women disclosed they regularly use apps or filters to make photos of themselves look better online
  • Two out of five girls (39%) said they feel upset that they can’t look the way they do online
  • 34% of girls said they wouldn’t post photos of themselves unless they use an app or filter to change their appearance, which increases as girls get older
  • 33% of girls said they would delete pictures of themselves if they didn’t receive enough likes or comments on the image
  • Eight out of ten girls and young women (80%) revealed they had considered changing how they look

Concerningly, the research also revealed girls from a young age said they believe women are judged more on what they look like than what they can do (51% of girls aged 7-10, which has increased from 35% in 2016).

Girlguiding Advocate Panel member, Alice, age 15, said: “The ‘perfect’ images girls are encountering in their daily lives is having a devastating impact on girls self-esteem and confidence, which not only negatively impacts their wellbeing but adds to pressures they already face in their lives.

“These enhanced images create a false society where how girls look is perceived to be the most important aspect about them. It prevents them from being able to be themselves or feel confident to do the things they want to, now and potentially in the future, and with the increased time spent online during lockdown, this could get much worse.”

Eight out of ten girls and young women (80%) revealed they have considered changing their appearance. A third of girls (32%) said they considered changing their appearance to feel more accepted and fit in, 55% to improve their confidence and 54% to make them feel better about themselves.

Over two thirds (68%) support legislation that would protect them from seeing advertisements for diet products and weight-loss clubs under the age of 18. Similar numbers (75%) agree there should be a minimum age of 18 for cosmetic procedures, such as lip fillers and Botox. Most girls aged 11 to 21 (71%) feel that the media and influencers on social media need to do more to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes.

The findings also showed girls from BAME backgrounds are more likely than their white peers not to use social media (33% aged 11 to 21 compared with 24% with those who are white) and not go to certain places (32% aged 11 to 16 compared to 19% of girls who are white) because of fear of criticism of their bodies.

Girlguiding Chief Executive, Angela Salt OBE said: “Our new research highlights the concerning amount of pressure faced by girls and young women on a daily basis. Exacerbated by lockdown and the surrounding uncertainty of their futures, it is imperative we continue to support their wellbeing and help build resilience and confidence.

“Young people are an important part of our recovery, but they are undoubtedly one of society’s hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic. We are proud to be able to offer girls and young women help and support to navigate these relentless pressures and aim to extend our reach further, so even more can benefit from the support Girlguiding provides.

“Using our expertise and knowledge of girls and young women’s lives, we look forward to continuing our work with decision makers, funders and other stakeholders across society to tackle the undue pressures girls and young women face.”

Hazel Johnstone, Senior Programmes Manager at People’s Postcode Lottery says: “Girls and young women are facing so many challenges, and as well as taking action to tackle these pressures, having access to tools to build resilience and confidence is crucial to ensure girls can live hopeful, confident futures.

“It is evident in the support young members receive from their friends and volunteers in Girlguiding that this is vital in increasing their sense of belonging and community spirit, and I’m so pleased that the funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery is enabling this to happen.” 

Girlguiding has spoken out on this topic before, and tackled the issue of gender stereotypes in the media and the impact on girls, but the increased time spent online during lockdown, and exposure to unrealistic images of girls and young women is exacerbating pressures girls are facing in an already challenging time.

Through the charity’s innovative peer education program, core programme and wellbeing and resilience tools, Girlguiding consistently continues to provide help and support to girls and young women to navigate the relentless pressures they face in their everyday lives in the safe girl only space it provides to its members.

The charity has also submitted evidence to the recent Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into body image and looks forward to working with decision makers and others across society to tackle the undue pressures girls and young women face.

Girlguiding’s full Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2020 will be released next month.