Body image anxiety is damaging the lives of children as young as 11, with secondary school pupils considering extreme diets and cosmetic surgery, a new study has revealed.
Research commissioned by the Be Real Campaign found that more than a third (36%) of 11-16 year olds are willing to do “whatever it takes” to look good, while 30% isolate themselves because of low body confidence.
“Evidence shows that schools are uniquely placed to support young people to hold positive discussions around body image with their peers and help reduce the negative impact low body confidence can have,” YMCA England and Wales chief executive Denise Hatton said.
“We are now calling on schools across the country to download the Be Real Campaign toolkit to support their pupils to lead body confident and healthy lives.”
The campaign surveyed 2,000 secondary school pupils about their relationship with their bodies.
Four in five (79%) young people surveyed said how they look is important to them, while more than half (57%) have dieted or would consider it.
“It is everywhere. It’s something that I think about every day, all the time, what I’m looking like, you know, how I’m dressing and how other people perceive me,” 15-year-old Isabel from the East of England said.
Scottish schoolboy Josh, 16, told researchers he spends up to 25 minutes editing his photos before he puts them on Facebook.
“I Photoshop every one of my profile pictures, I kid you not,” he said. “I get rid of my spots, I get rid of my double chin.”
But despite young people’s concerns, the study found that nearly a fifth (18%) of teachers don’t feel comfortable talking to their pupils about body confidence.
The new toolkit aims to tackle this, offering free, downloadable lesson guidance, materials and advice to help teachers educate students about body image.
Julie Hunter, an assistant headteacher in Wiltshire, said: “For me it’s about enabling teachers to use accurate language so they’re confident when delivering these lessons. Equally it is vital that we make students aware of this issue.”
A government spokesperson said: “We live in a world where young people experience a daily onslaught of messages – from TV, social media, music and celebrity culture – about who they should be and in particular what they should look like.
“These messages can place overwhelming pressure on children and young people during their formative years,” they continued.
“That’s why we have developed an extensive programme around body image over the last six years, including resources that help teachers and parents talk about body image and gender stereotypes in relation to the adverts we see every day.”