Two in three (69%) young people are worried about parts of their appearance as they are going back to school this week, including their skin, body shape and being overweight, new figures from the Be Real Campaign for body confidence have revealed.
Be Real surveyed more than 1,000 young people across the UK, with one in four (26%) saying that the way they look is one of their biggest worries at the start of the new school year.
The figures also highlighted how the early start of body image anxieties increase into adulthood. While ‘only’ 20% of young people aged 11 to 12 years old worry about their appearance, concerns peak at a time when they are already facing extreme pressures from GCSEs with 32% of 15 to 16 year olds saying their looks were one of their main concerns when going back to school.
Be Real, which was established following the Reflections on Body Image report in 2014 by the All-Parliamentary Group for Body Image, is calling on schools and education professionals to make body image a key priority in the new school year to help tackle the negative effects of body image anxiety among young people. The campaign has developed a free toolkit for schools, which was has been downloaded almost 1,400 times since its launch and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers and students alike.
Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, a founding partner of the Be Real Campaign, said:
“Young people are constantly bombarded with images of unrealistic body types in the media, advertising and online, which can have devastating effects on their confidence and overall wellbeing. We know that some young people are so worried about their looks that it stops them from raising their hand in class or taking part in school activities, including PE.
“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. In this digital age it’s now more important than ever that we talk openly about body image, so that young people can feel comfortable in their skin and have one less thing to worry about when they are going through puberty, which is already one of the most difficult stages of their life.”
Alexandra Dutch, Teacher at Chobham Academy in East London, said:
“The toolkit is an amazing resource that we used successfully with Year 8 students last year and we are now planning on rolling it out across the school this academic year.
“Body confidence is such an important issue and it’s becoming more and more apparent that we need to start tackling this from a young age in schools. Students who took part in the sessions grew in confidence and were able to discuss their feelings and opinions clearly. They were surprised to see that what they see in the media isn’t always real – everyone is different and it’s important for them to feel confident in their own bodies. ”
Courtney Peet, 19, from Grimsby
Courtney was bullied about her appearance throughout school, which lead her to undergo plastic surgery, when she was just 16 years old. Her low body image and the constant bullying at school resulted in her isolating herself and she ended up dropping out of college early, after classmates circulated memes* of her online. Courtney is now a Be Real Ambassador and is hoping to help other young people who are struggling with low body image.
Talking about her experience with body image and bullying at school, Courtney said:
“I first started worrying about my appearance when I was ten. I was mainly worried about my weight and how thick and chubby I was. I also had issues with the way my face looked because I had a severe under bite.
“I got taunted and bullied for this daily throughout my school and college years. The support I got from my school and my college was horrendous. I don’t think they knew how to deal with the issue and I ended up being treated like the perpetrator rather than the victim. I was moved courses and classes rather than the staff dealing with the bullies head on, which made me feel even worse about myself.”
Be Real’s Body Confidence Campaign Toolkit for Schools follows on from the Body Image Pledge, which urged the fashion, media, music and advertising industries to ‘Be Real’ in their use of images and portray the true diversity of UK society.