Girls as young as 7 years old struggle with poor body confidence, according to the Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2016, commissioned by the Girl Guides. Some 40 percent of 7- to 10-year-olds sometimes felt ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies, with 15 percent feeling this way most of the time.
This statistic is sad enough in itself, but just 10 years later the figures rocket upwards. Among 17- to 21-year-olds, 78 percent felt that same shame and embarrassment (50 percent most of the time). The survey highlights the pressures felt from a young age – that girls feel they are not pretty enough, thin enough or perfect.
This is heart-breaking for anyone who knows a young woman, but it’s also a big problem for the future.
There is a clear link between poor body image and eating disorders, and so we are facing a time bomb of women developing an unhealthy relationship with food. This can lead to anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder at its extreme. Conditions that can ruin lives. For the majority of women who don’t develop a disorder, food can still dominate their lives to an unhealthy degree. Leading to great unhappiness and low self-esteem.
With nearly 60 percent of British women having tried to lose weight in the last year, this number must arguably be set to increase as this generation of young women grows up. We could become a nation in which the majority of its women are unhappy with the way they look and view dieting as the solution.
Great news for the £2 billion U.K. diet industry. I’d buy their shares too (Oprah) if I didn’t know that dieting is not the answer. Diets often don’t work if you want to lose weight and keep it off. In worse news, nearly 50 percent of dieters are heavier than when they started a diet four to five years after their diet ends.
But consider the loss of human capital. All the time and energy spent in a cycle of yo-yo dieting and, often, bingeing. What a waste of talent as women sit trapped in the grip of body hatred whilst a world of opportunities passes them by.
The survey also found that 37 percent of girls aged 11 to 21 compared themselves to celebrities sometimes or often. We can only infer that they are left feeling somehow lacking. This is a huge issue facing our society, and yet it is so often reduced to a debate about how thin models should be.
Social media certainly provides a rich channel of exposure to our children of wafer-thin models, celebrities and musicians. But it starts at home. Do you gorge on fitspo Instagram sites? Do you like your body? Do you talk about how women look?
The bottom line is that models are thin because we like to look at them. If we didn’t, Gucci would sign up Ashley Graham in a flash. Change will only happen when we stop criticizing ourselves and other women. When we start to like our bodies. Then we will want to see average-sized models (as a start). The girls in the survey already know this. When asked what would improve the lives of girls and women, 54 percent of 7- to 10-year-old girls said we should stop judging women on what they look like.
They are right. We must start by appreciating our own bodies. We don’t have to love them to appreciate that they are something special. Embracing diversity in all its forms is also an action step we can take right now. If you struggle to look at body types that are not what you deem ideal, ask yourself the question ― why do you feel like that? We also need to stop looking at fit inspiration photos. Go be your own inspiration!
Only then we will really send our girls the message that they are just fine thank you very much and what do they want to achieve today? The sky’s the limit.
Sarah Wylder is an Emotional Eating Coach and the Founder of Leaving Diet World
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.