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The pressure to be pretty: Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2016

The pressure to be pretty: Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2016 Posted on October 7, 201634 Comments

For many girls looks matter, and the pressure to be pretty.  A third of seven to ten year olds believe they aren’t pretty enough, they should lose weight, and over half feel the need to be perfect. And as girls get older, this only get worse. This is just some of the findings from the largest, annual research study into the attitudes of girls, published by  Girl Guiding UK.

The study gives the world a snapshot of what girls in the UK are thinking about a variety of issues including  body confidence, sexism, social media, mental health, education and aspiration.

I have a little girl, she knows her own mind, she’s forthright and vocal (very vocal). So when I read the findings from the Girls’ Attitudes Survey, I feel sad, then angry. Because I want my girl to feel confident, to have ambition, to know she can do any job she wants. That’s not to much to ask, is it?

But there are so many obstacles in the way of girls’ progress:

  • The reality is, the world is unequal
  • Girls are subject to gender stereotyping
  • Girls aren’t being given the same choices as boys in school
  • Girls are bombarded 24/7 with images of how they should look
  • They see potential role models judged on their looks and life style, not their achievements

If you get a chance – take a look at the report its vital reading, getting into the mindset of what it is to be a girl in 2016.

Highlights from the Girls’ Attitudes Survey

  • From as young as seven, the pressure is on to look and feel pretty. Girls are reporting they are embarrassed and ashamed of how they look
  • Gender stereotyping is rife, everyday girls see and experience sexism and stereotyping. But the good news is they feel confident to challenge sexist behaviour when they see it
  • Threats to safety, sexual harassment mean girls are changing their behaviour
  • Online and social media is a big part of children’s lives. Girls think sexism is worse online.  Many girls have experienced this themselves making them feel silenced.  But, half of girls say social media empower themselves to speak out
  • Girls’ happiness is following a downward trend, it only gets worse as they get older. At the same time girls are proud their achievements
  • Girls are just not getting the same access to choices as boys

But there is good news

  • Though girls feel the workplace is unequal, they have high aspirations and feel inspired by a diversity of role models. Half feel more determined despite inequality in leadership

Source Girls’ Attitudes Survey

What do girls want to change?

When asked what changes they would like to see, girls said:

  • Don’t judge me on my looks
  • We want fairness regardless of our background
  • We want to be safe
  • Tackle online sexism and abuse of women and girls
  • More support with mental health
  • Help us to improve our understanding of sexual consent
  • We want more women in top jobs

Who are girls’ role models

This is interesting. If girls had chosen pop stars like Beyoncé, it was “Because she is a really good singer and tells people that everyone is beautiful the way they are” or Taylor Swift, “She is determined and hard working.” They admired girls and women who took a stand such as Malala Yousafzai because, “She is extremely brave and courageous, she fights for what she believes in”  or Emma Watson because “She is fighting for equal rights for both men and women.”

Source Girls’ Attitudes Survey

As a mum, what can I do boost my girl’s self-esteem

  • Be a better listener
  • Make sure I say my daughter is smart, bright, intelligent (same goes for my son)
  • I’m going give more praise, especially for their achievements
  • I’m not going to shy from talking about sexual health
  • Keep gender stereotyping  in check
  • Find great role models – artists, scientists, authors, engineers, astronauts
  • Find great resources, check out A mighty Girl (I love this site) and check out this Kickstarter funded book Good Night stories for Rebel Girls

Picture credit, Eric Prunier, courtesy of Flickr


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34 thoughts on “The pressure to be pretty: Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2016

    1. I know exactly how you feel. And you are right, it is the media who pedal the prettiness myth. It’s a powerful force. I want my girl to simply have the freedom to choose to be who she wants to be, and not feel that she has to conform to a unattainable ‘ideal’ that really doesn’t not exist.

  1. As a mum of two girls (and a boy) 8 & 10, I have been shocked at how early they start saying they’re fat, ugly etc! It really matters how we deal with it and make sure they are confident in themselves. Bitchy behaviour in girls to each other really doesn’t help either! #KCACOLS
    Sonia recently posted…Budget Birthday PartiesMy Profile

    1. I completely agree with you, we have to instil an inner confidence into our children to stand up to peer pressure, and to the world of social media which we have little control over. Thank you so much for you comment.

  2. As a mum to two young girls these are upsetting results but they are far from surprising! They are very ‘girly girls’ but I make sure they understand boys and girls can be princesses or princes if they want. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, it’s a choice.
    winnettes recently posted…KidloLand App: Review & GiveawayMy Profile

  3. This is just heartbreaking really. As someone who suffered with anorexia for fifteen years of my adult life, it’s so sad to read that so many young children are already feeling the pressure. I think that the pressure is just as bad for boys to be honest, my son went through a worrying stage where he was worrying about his weight after a comment made by another child at school. I strive to ensure that my children have positive body images and these days I lead by example. #KCACOLS
    five little doves recently posted…Pregnancy & Baby loss awareness month. #captureyourgriefMy Profile

    1. I agree it’s so sad. And it’s just as important for boys as girls. But there are so many outside factors that play into this equation. You are doing amazing, leading by example.

  4. I hate to think that in a years time my daughter will start to feel ashamed on how she looks. I try and use so many positive adjectives to tell her how brave, strong, beautiful, intelligent, bright, funny she is to reinforce her self confidence and I hope it sticks. I also try to say nice things about myself in front of her to give her a positive role model. Thanks so much for sharing with #kcacols I hope to see you back next time!
    Kat recently posted…My Favourite Movies – #Blogtober16My Profile

  5. A very interesting post, having two boys they have also worried about their weight and looks and have experienced bullying at times, I have an 8 year old neiece who is so beautiful and I fear for her as she gets older, she already walks around lifting her top up wanting to show off her belly button and loves make up, she doesnt even need it, but what kid does at 8! #KCACOLS

    1. It’s tough, there are so many external influences way beyond our control. All we can do is make sure we praise our kids and celebrate their achievements.

    1. Thank you. It’s so important that we make sure girls are valued for their achievements, to build up their self-esteem and confidence.

  6. I’m going to forward this article onto my sister. My 12 year old niece has been bullied for being ‘fat’ and whilst she is bigger than girls her age she’s definitely not fat. My sister is trying to encourage her to make healthier choices rather than the sweets & chocolate she wants, and exercise more for her health and self esteem but at the same time doesn’t want to reinforce the fact that she is overweight. It’s so hard when little girls are putting so much pressure on themselves and other girls because of the ‘ideal body’
    Toni | Gym Bunny Mummy recently posted…SAYING NO TO THE MUM GUILT, I’M OVER ITMy Profile

    1. Thanks so much, I am so gland you found this useful. Girls can be so horrible to each other, school is full of Mean Girls. I wasn’t into PE when I was a kid, but there are other ways of being active that can be fun. I hope she pulls through and stands up to the bullies. I’m rooting for her!

  7. This is a great post and a great insight. I had no idea about the statistics and it’s scary to think that children are feeling more pressure to look a certain way etc… Great ways to boost your child’s self esteem! I praise my son all the time and tell him how smart he is etc… I do hope your little girl never gets to feel like she isn’t “pretty enough” because everyone is.

    Jordanne ||
    Jordanne | Thelifeofaglasgowgirl recently posted…#MeetTheBeauties ││ Ana FadedSpringMy Profile

  8. As a Mum of two girls, 8 & 9 I love this article!

    Gender stereotyping is an issue for me as my eldest gets called a tomboy as she likes sports, maths, science however I don’t believe she is. I say she’s unique and I’m proud of that.

    Also proud of my stereotypical 8 year old who is very “girly” and certainly aware of her looks and has been for many years.

    1. Thank you so much! So what if she likes sports, science and maths its what she is good at and has a passion for does it matter that she is a girl. It’s great that you praise her for that. And your younger, so she’s likes girls stuff, again praising her will keep her confident and proud.

  9. It’s worrying that T is only six and I’ve heard her a couple of times say that she’s too fat. She doesn’t have an ounce of fat in her. I have a feeling that she’s heard it from other girls in school because although I do think I need to lose weight, I have never uttered anything negative in front of her about my insecurities because I know it will have a negative impact on my child 🙁
    Dean of Little Steps recently posted…Music and MemoriesMy Profile

    1. It’s really awful. Super Girl has mentioned she’s fat – not a jot of fat on her. I think your right, they hear it at school, which makes me think school has a big part to play in turning girls attitudes around.

    1. We need to really develop a different vocabulary that has nothing to do with how a girl looks or perceives she looks. I’m going to try and focus on effort and achievement.

    1. You are so right, there’s so much pressure to be perfect, great academic record, look pretty, it’s unachievable and causing a lot of misery.

    1. I know I was shocked when I read the report, it’s so sad, at that age you should be thinking of just playing!

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