A figure from this year's Girls' Attitudes Survey that I found devastating was that seven out of 10 girls (68 per cent) believe women are judged more on their appearance than ability. This rises to 75 per cent among those who are working. With three out of five secondary school-age girls saying they feel pressure to look like celebrities, it is unsurprising girls feel they are so harshly judged on their looks.
With this pressure to look like celebrities, why should girls look for role models who are famed for intelligence over their fantastic figure and always perfect dress and make-up? Not that these things have to be mutually exclusive. At one of my recent Guide meetings we asked girls to come dressed as a female role model with some surprising results.
Although there were a couple of Cheryl Coles in the group, many girls came as inspirational women from the past. One came as Sylvia Earle, a renowned Marine Biologist. Another was her own teacher from school. And one came as Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning for the right to an education. Why did this girl choose Malala? Because Malala insisted on continuing to learn, despite the ban on educating girls and knowing what the consequence could be.
This reinforced a figure from this year's survey that opened my eyes: 69 per cent of girls felt that education was a freedom worth fighting for. Girls felt this was more important than both the freedom to access healthcare and freedom from the threat of violence.
Malala's situation highlights the fact that the female population is discriminated against all over the world. My own role models are people like Malala, who fight for equality against extreme circumstances. I also admire Perry Hewitt, Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University. She leads an incredible team in providing one of the best digital presences in the world of academia and is someone fantastically interesting to listen to and learn from.
The survey highlights some truly inspirational opinions and I'm proud to be involved in research that aims to make a difference to the way girls live and the decisions made on their behalf. Being part of the survey made me realise how important education is in helping every girl get to where they want to be and that the fight for equality isn't over.
This post forms part of the UK Government's blog series on body confidence which runs throughout 2012.