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Girlguiding UK survey uncovers a generation of girls and young women under pressure

September 6, 2010

Today, Girlguiding UK launches its second Girls’ Attitudes Survey looking at the views and opinions of today’s girls and young women.  New findings show that the pressure to look attractive is taking a hold on girls’ lives. Girls are also worried about academic pressure and believe stress leads their peers to turn to unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and getting drunk. They say that these can, in turn, lead to even more serious implications for their health and wellbeing. 

The Girls’ Attitudes Survey is a unique snapshot of the opinions, attitudes and experiences of girls and young women in 2010. The survey was commissioned by Girlguiding UK to explore the opinions of girls in the UK at large and was conducted with over 1,200 girls, forming a representative geographical and social sample. The organisation has not surveyed its members.

The 2010 survey findings highlight the pressure to be attractive, thereby supporting Girlguiding UK’s ongoing petition for a kitemark to distinguish between airbrushed and natural images, launched in August 2010.

The survey found that:

  • Around half of girls (47%) believe that the pressure to look attractive is the most negative part of being female.
  • The 2009 survey found that 42% of girls had been on strict diets.  In 2010 girls were asked why.  75% said that strict dieting took place to be attractive to others with 66% claiming it was because of the media portrayal of women.
  • Girls from lower performing schools place more importance on being attractive compared to girls from higher performing schools – 33% from lower performing schools compared with 20% from higher performing schools.
  • Additionally, girls from lower performing schools also thought it more important to be rich (24% vs 3%) and famous (32% vs 14%) than girls from higher performing schools.
  • Being fit and active was selected by more than half (54%) of girls as an important factor in being successful in life.

Cathy Fraser, Girlguiding UK spokesperson and Head of Girlguiding UK’s Youth Panel Advocate said:

“Following on from the fascinating insight that last years’ survey gave us into the views and opinions of girls today, the Girls Attitudes Survey 2010 delves deeper into the reasons behind some of last years’ outcomes.

“We know that girls are growing up in ever changing, increasingly complicated times and, as adults who care about their experiences, we must listen to their views. Girls are telling us that the world they are living in can be extremely stressful, which leads to a range of unhealthy behaviours and outcomes. It is vital that we support girls and young women to develop their self-esteem and resilience so they can cope with it. By understanding the issues that girls and young women are facing we can support them to navigate these complex factors and become strong and confident members of society.”

Leah Parsons (18), a member of Girlguiding UK’s Youth Panel Advocate said:

“Our petition to label airbrushed images came out of some of the findings of the Girls Attitudes Survey last year and it is interesting to see further evidence of the pressure on girls and young women reflected in this years’ results.  The survey is a chance for people to hear what girls really think about the issues that affect our lives so it will be great to see how this develops and what kind of impact it could have.”

Jo Swinson MP, co-founder of the Campaign for Body Confidence, said:

“Once again, Girlguiding UK has produced a thorough piece of research which demonstrates that extreme pressure which girls and young women are feeling over their body image.

“When so many young girls feel that the pressure to be attractive is one of the most difficult aspects of their lives, it is clear that something needs to change.

“These findings support Girlguiding UK’s campaign, which is backed by the Campaign for Body Confidence, for airbrushed images in the media to be clearly labelled.”

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