"Once I was seven years old... and I felt frightened that others were judging me based on my appearance". Not the follow up line that you expected? Unfortunately, this statement rings true for a horrifying number of girls today, according to Girlguiding's 2016 Girls' Attitude Survey, with one third of 7 to 10 year olds reporting that they feel that they are not pretty enough.
The Girls' Attitude Survey is an annual survey conducted by Girlguiding, and is the largest of its kind looking at the lives of girls and young women in the UK. This year's report shows that a shocking numbers of girls aged 7 to 10 are struggling massively with their body confidence, with a third of them telling Girlguiding that they feel the most important thing about them is the way they look, and one in four saying that they felt they needed to be perfect.
Am I, as a young woman myself, surprised at these results? In truth, not really. At 8 years old, I remember feeling frightened to change into my P.E. shorts for school sport because I didn't want people to see how thick my thighs were. Apparently I was not alone. Almost one in six girls aged 7 to 10 reported being embarrassed or ashamed of their appearances.
As these girls grow up believing their appearances are their most important traits, how will they gain the confidence to apply for jobs relying on intellect and leadership? How will they create strong relationships where they feel safe and valued? How will they keep in good mental health (as we can't shy away from the fact that low body confidence can and does lead to eating disorders)? The simple answer to all three of these questions is: they can't.
So, why are girls aged 7 to 10 feeling this way? There are many factors involved, but for me, one key element really stands out. I have an experiment for you: go out into your local town and walk around, and count how many images you see of 'perfect' women in the eyes of the media. Look out for a perfectly proportioned hourglass figure, a flawless complexion, luscious hair, bright eyes, a stunning white-toothed smile and a heavy layer of retouching.
Then, count how many adverts you see promising to turn women into these beauty goddesses; weight loss products, fitness regimes, clothes and hair and make-up products. They are everywhere. The pressure is on adverts, it's on TV, it's in magazines, it's online. And now it's in our girls' heads too. Once they have been exposed to our society of Photoshop and Instagram filters, it's only a matter of time before they begin to apply the media's superficial scrutiny to their own appearances.
We need to rebuild the confidence of our girls and young women. For over 100 years now, Girlguiding has provided a safe space, where girls and young women are free to be themselves, build their confidence and fulfil their aspirations.
Now, we are bringing the issue of body confidence to the forefront of attention for educators, the government and the girls themselves. This October, Girlguiding is challenge the public to rethink how they compliment girls and to ensure girls see their own value through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @Girlguiding, #YouAreAmazing #GirlsAttitudes.
Our girls are our future. Don't let them be dragged down by a society of judgement by appearance which belongs thoroughly in the past. Tell a girl today that she is amazing for something other than her appearance, and remember that you too are amazing. We are all people. We are so much more than the way we look.