Girls, be it young or old feel under pressure to lose weight because they are being bombarded with images of the "perfect" body from billboards, videos and even their toys, stark new research published by the Girl Guides suggests.
An annual study of girls' attitudes to life shows that two fifths of those between the ages of seven and 10 feel they need to lose weight and one in six think about it "most" of the time or often.
‘Despite evidence of widespread online bullying, low body confidence only deters around one in four girls from using social media.’
AdvertisementIt charts a marked rise over the last five years in the number of girls of all ages who say they are unhappy with their appearance.
Half of girls between the ages of 17 and 21 surveyed were dissatisfied with their looks, compared with only 36 percent in the same survey in 2011.
Even among primary school aged girls, only a minority now say they are "very happy" with the way they look, falling from 54 percent five years ago to 45 percent now.
And the proportion of girls under the age of 10 who actively dislike their looks has risen by almost half in that time, from nine percent to 13 percent.
The report signals that low "body confidence" is increasingly curtailing girls' everyday lives.
A majority (55 percent) of 17 to 21-year-olds and half of 11 to 16-year-olds say worries about their body stops them from having their picture taken.
It is also putting many off sport - particularly those in their mid teens - as well as deterring others from speaking up in class.
Meanwhile a quarter of girls and young women aged 11 to 21 said they had had threatening things said to them online; one in five had been send unwanted sexual imagery and 40 percent of older girls said they had had an embarrassing photograph of themselves shared.
Becky Hewitt, director of Girlguiding, said: "Even very young girls are constantly seeing images that suggest there is an 'ideal' way for women to look - in the mainstream media, advertising, online videos, computer games, street billboards and even their toys.
"We want girls to know they are valued for who they are - for their bravery, opinions, kindness and talents. We want them to be going on adventures, making friends, playing sport and trying new things - not worrying about what they look like," he said.
Dr Carole Easton, Chief Executive of the Young Women's Trust said: "If we are serious about ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to get on in life, then much more must be done to ensure a level playing field, starting from childhood and into young adulthood, not least by challenging gender stereotypes."
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