Young women and girls in the UK feel under pressure to look "pretty" and believe they are judged more on their looks than their abilities, according to the results of a worrying new survey. More than a third of girls aged between seven and 10 (35%) said they believed women are judged on their appearance, while nearly a quarter (23%) said they felt they needed to be perfect. The 2016 Girls' Attitudes Survey, conducted by Girlguiding, also found that girls' confidence has dropped in the last five years. Fewer than two thirds (61%) of seven to 21 year olds surveyed said they were happy with their bodies, a steep decline from the 73% who said the same in 2011. Of the 559 young girls aged between seven and 10 who were surveyed, a worrying proportion were concerned about their looks, the research found. More than a third (36%) said they were made to feel their looks were the most important thing about them, a similar number felt they weren't pretty enough (38%) and 23% felt they needed to be perfect.
The picture was even bleaker among the slightly older girls and young women surveyed (11 to 21 year olds). An astonishing 93% said women were judged more on appearance than ability and 80% believed their looks were the most important thing about them. This group also said they felt pressure to look and behave in a certain way – 66% felt they weren't pretty enough, while 61% felt pressure to be perfect. Girls said their feelings about their bodies stopped them from socialising, exercising and speaking up in class, as well as influencing their clothing choices and discouraging them from having photos taken, the BBC reported. Many took to social media to say they weren't surprised by the findings.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said women and girls were “persistently judged on what they look like” and were at greater risk of depression and mental illness as a result, reported The Guardian. “This is serious. As a society we need to face up to the fact that objectification and harassment is ruining girls’ lives and we are letting it happen,” she added. The latest survey results show that gender inequality begins at a young age, said Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust. She said: “If we are serious about ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to get on in life, then much more must be done to ensure a level playing field – starting from childhood and into young adulthood, not least by challenging gender stereotypes,” The Guardian reported. Girlguiding is using the hasgtags #youareamazing and #girlsattitudes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to encourage people to compliment young women and girls on their personalities and achievements instead of their looks. Other recent surveys have also highlighted that mental illness is soaring among young woman in the UK and that British teenage girls have become increasingly unhappy in recent years. When will the government start taking teenage girls' mental health seriously?