Low body confidence in women and girls can have a catastrophic effect on their work, academic performance and their ability to contribute to society, a shocking report has revealed.
In some cases, young women who worry they are overweight achieve lower academic grades, while 16% don't go to school when they feel bad about their looks.
A "significant minority" of women do not turn up to work or job interviews due to body image concerns, the research published by the University of the West of England found.
The report, ‘Costing the Invisible: A Review of the Evidence Examining the Links Between BodyImage, Aspirations, Education and Workplace Confidence’, looked at more than 49,000 girls and women aged 10 to 60 across five continents.
The studies, across the UK, USA, Finland, Germany, China, India and Russia - to name a few - also found:
- Adolescent girls are not engaging in classroom debate and are missing school due to concerns about the way they look. For example, 20% of girls don’t give an opinion in class when they feel bad about their looks.
- Irrespective of their actual weight, girls in Finland, USA and China who think they are overweight achieve lower academic grades.
- When young adult women at university are primed by others to focus on their appearance, their performance on academic tests is undermined, indicating that body image concerns can prevent women from achieving their full potential academically.
Although the impact of body image concerns on both physical and psychological health may be well documented, the consequences of these issues on the academic, social and occupational spheres had, until now, remained unknown.
Dr Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and author of the report, dubbed the findings "devastating".
"Young girls and women's appearance concerns are hampering their economic and intellectual capacities. Yes they succeed. Yes they are doing well in school but they could be doing better.
"The assault on appearance must stop before it robs more girls and women and increasingly boys and men from expressing themselves as ably as they might.
"The imperative to look good as the rich industries which feed the beauty culture suggest is not a solution but a prescription for dissatisfaction."
The report concludes there is an "urgent need for intervention" to reverse the trend of poor body image and poor body confidence.
"The silent self-attacks are thwarting girls’ ambitions at exactly the time when society is apparently opening up to them."
Jo Swinson MP, Minister for Women and Equalities said the report shed a welcome light on what happens to girls' aspirations and confidence when they are constantly distracted by how they appear to others.
"There is a lot of focus on the anxiety that poor body image causes to young people, but much less attention to how its effects spill out across all areas of life.
"With quiet passion, it forces us to consider how much creativity, energy and ambition would be unlocked if we could relieve girls from the unwavering, critical scrutiny of a society obsessed with a narrow and unrealistic ideal of beauty."