A 2009 survey of English girls aged 11-16 is still prompting the Girl Guides organization (the forerunner of Girl Scouts in the U.S.) to fight for improved self-esteem for young women.
The London-based Times first reported on the study in November of 2009. To mark the 100-year anniversary of Girl Guiding, more than a thousand girls and young women aged 7 to 21 were surveyed on their feelings about health, body image and family life. The numbers tell the story: 50 percent of girls aged 16 to 21 and 46 percent aged 11 to 16 would consider cosmetic surgery to be thinner or prettier.
Beyond the numbers, there are other alarming findings. The authors of the study pointed out that while more than half of girls aged 7 to 9 are satisfied with their appearance, that figure drops to only 27 percent for girls 9 to 11—just two years older. Also, girls who are not doing well in school would consider a cosmetic procedure even more readily.
Among other conclusions, a Girl Guide trustee commented for the Times that dissatisfaction with their looks starts very early for girls in England, and those who are having problems in school “pin their self-worth on their appearance much more.”
Taking action for the benefit of young girls, one move Girl Guiding made was to call for airbrushed photos to be labeled as such in fashion magazines. As reported by the BBC in August of last year, participants in an annual Girl Guide camp organized a petition to present to Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to develop a law requiring magazines to identify airbrushed photos.
Earlier this month, Girl Guiding took another step in the campaign to boost girls’ body image and self-esteem. The organization launched an electronic resource called “Give yourself a chance,” to allow girls to explore their feelings and consider other avenues to increasing self-worth. The web-based resource includes tips from real young women like this one:
Try out lots of new things until you find something that you really enjoy whether it is running, cooking, climbing or writing. When you are feeling a bit down, do that activity and you will feel so much more confident about yourself. --Liz, aged 21
Whether the girls and young women in your life are Girl Guides, Girl Scouts or neither, you can take a page from the handbook yourself. Talk to youngsters you know about their attitudes toward fashion models and celebrities and the way they look. See if girls are aware of airbrushing techniques. Ask about their feelings toward cosmetic procedures and dieting. You may be surprised—and possibly quite dismayed—at what you hear.
If you need support, visit www.girlguiding.org.uk/giveyourselfachance and check out the Girl Guides’ campaign. There are other resources on the Internet as well, even a teaching module you can access here:
If you should find the girls in your life are initially quiet about the subject, don’t be fooled. Chances are, the media is more prevalent in their lives than it is yours, and remember the effects of peer pressure. Bring up body image and talk about it.