A new report commissioned by the Government Equalities Office has found that low self-confidence has a significant impact on girls’ academic performance – as well as their potential to contribute economically and socially to society.
The report, ‘Costing The Invisible: A Review of the Evidence Examining the Links Between Body Image, Aspirations, Education and Workplace Confidence’ covers 25 studies involving over 49,000 girls and women aged 10-60 across five continents – including the UK.
The conclusions reached are as follows:
- Adolescent girls refrain from getting involved in classroom debate and are missing school because they are uncomfortable with their appearance. Research showed 20% of girls do not put their hand up in class, while 16% do not attend school because of their looks.
- Irrespective of their weight, girls in Finland, USA and China who think they are overweight achieve lower academic grades.
- Young adult women at University who are influenced by others to focus on their appearance do not perform well academically.
- A number of women will not go into work or attend job interviews due to body image concerns.
These findings highlight the extent to which low self-confidence and body image concerns can prevent women and young girls from achieving their full potential academically and in their careers.
Cultural pressures and current unrealistic standards of beauty are considered largely to blame, and the report states that such messages are “thwarting girls’ ambitions at a time when society is apparently opening up to them.”
Jo Swinson MP, Minister for Women and Equalities said: “There is a lot of focus on the anxiety poor body image causes to young people, but much less attention on how its effects can spill out across all areas of life.
“This report 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.”
Whilst awareness is growing of the consequences of body image issues, particularly among young girls, the authors of the report argue much more needs to be done to take the emphasis off appearance as the intrinsic link to a person’s value.
Dr Emma Halliwell, senior lecturer in Psychology, Centre for Appearance Research, and report author said:
“We need to challenge the ubiquitous messages that female appearance is of central importance and begin to focus on all of the other ways in which girls and women can excel.
“By ignoring this issue, we all become complicit in reinforcing these damaging messages. By actively challenging this overemphasis on appearance we can improve the lives of both women and men.”