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[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A UK-based children’s charity with links to the Church of England reports that more than a quarter of a million girls in Britain are unhappy with their lives and appearance. The study, by the Children’s Society, reports that “huge numbers [of girls are] struggling with the way they look.” The finding is reported in the latest edition of the Good Childhood Report – a series of studies into children’s lives based on surveys of thousands of young people.
The study “highlights the clear link between unhappiness and mental health problems, underlining the importance of tackling low well-being to address mental ill-health,” the Children’s Society said. “Boys and girls experience mental health problems in different ways. While boys aged 10 and 11 are less happy than girls with their school work and more likely to experience conduct and attention / hyperactivity problems, girls experience anxiety and depression significantly more than boys – and become increasingly unhappy with their appearance – as they get older.”
“We’re expected to be perfect, like Barbie dolls or something and if we don’t then we get bullied,” one young girl said.
“There is a lot of pressure to look good,” another girl told the researchers. “You get called names no matter what. People always say stuff behind your back. Boys always call you ugly if you have spots, or a slag if you wear makeup.”
Another said: “Girls feel pressured by the boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem and makes girls feel ugly or worthless.”
According to the report, an estimated 283,000 girls aged 10-15 say they are not happy with their lives overall – one in seven of all girls in that age group.
“The picture is even starker when it comes to personal appearance, with the number of 10-15-year-old girls who do not feel happy with their looks reaching 700,000 across the UK – more than a third (34 per cent) of the total,” the Children’s Society said.
“The picture for girls is even worse than it was five years previously, with the number who do not feel happy overall up 21 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14 and the number unhappy with their appearance in particular up 8 per cent over the same period.
“In contrast to the deteriorating picture for girls, the proportion of boys aged 10-15 who are unhappy with their lives has remained stable at one in nine, while the proportion of boys who say they are unhappy with their appearance continues to hover around 20 per cent.”
The report says that the reasons for the widening gender gap are unclear, but that emotional bullying is twice as common as physical bullying; and girls are more likely to experience emotional bullying, such as name-calling. “About half of all children aged 10 to 15 had been bullied at school in the past month,” the Children’s Society said.
“It is desperately worrying that so many of our young people are suffering rather than thriving,” the Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed, said. “Girls are having a particularly tough time and it’s clear that concerted action is needed to tackle this problem.
“All children deserve a happy childhood and we must never accept that it is somehow inevitable that so many children in Britain should live in distress. As a first step all children should be able to access mental health and wellbeing support in school. Children must be heard and helped.”
The Children’s Society was founded by Sunday School teacher Edward Rudolf in 1881. Its presidents are the Archbishops of Canterbury and York; and its chair of trustees is the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, Bishop of Truro.
- Click here to download the Good Childhood Report 2016 (pdf).