More than three-fifths (64%) of young people are worried about parts of their appearance as they are heading 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.
YMCA’s Be Real Campaign surveyed more than 800 young people across the UK with skin (24%), weight (24%), clothes (20%), height (18%), muscles (12%), and hair (21%) being their biggest sources of body image anxiety.
The figures also highlighted how the early start of body image anxieties increases throughout school life. While ‘only’ 57% 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 68% of 15 to 16-year-olds saying they are worried about their appearance while at school.
The campaign calls 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 more than 2,000 times since its launch and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers and students alike.
Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, 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 anxieties, 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 have used successfully with our students. 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 viewed in the media isn’t always real – everyone is different and it’s important for them to feel confident in their own bodies.”
The report and toolkit follow YMCA’s alarming research from last year which found that more than half (55%) of young people have been bullied about the way they look, with two-fifths of those experiencing this bullying at least once a week.
The research also revealed that, contrary to popular belief, most young people experience this bullying in person (72%) and not online. A staggering 80% of those who were bullied about the way they look said it took place in school or college.
Schools can download the toolkit free at the Be Real Campaign website.