Young people worry about their appearance as they struggle to confront a seemingly never-ending list of expectations about how they should look and who they should be.
The extent of the problem is illustrated by the fact that more than two-thirds of young people (67%) often worry about the way they look. This worry tends to increase with age as nearly three quarters of 17 to 24 year-olds (72%) often worry about the way they look compared to less than three fifths of those aged 11 to 16 (59%).
The pressures and expectations young people face come from a variety of sources and are often dependent on the individual. However, previous research in this area found that celebrities were the most common source with nearly three fifths of young people (58%) identifying celebrities as where the expectations and pressures on appearance resonate from.
Although celebrities are named as the source of the pressures and expectations, the influence of peer groups cannot be underestimated. While in many cases they do not specifically create the appearance ‘ideals’ that young people are subjected to, for the majority of young people it was the peer group that underpinned and reinforced these ‘ideals’ and expectations.
For many young people worrying about the judgement of others was seen as an inevitable and inescapable part of growing up. This is perhaps not surprising given that more than half of young people (55%) have experienced appearance-based bullying and three quarters of young people (75%) have seen someone bullied about their appearance.
While the focus of this bullying is not consistent between individuals, its prevalence often is as two fifths of young people (40%) who have been bullied about their appearance experience it at least once a week.
Educational environments are overwhelmingly the primarily surroundings in which this bullying takes place. Accordingly, four in five young people (80%) who experienced this bullying related to their appearance do so in school or college, and more than a third of young people (37%) experienced it on their way to and from school or college.
The association between educational environments and bullying is further illustrated by the fact that over two thirds of young people (70%) who have experienced appearance based-bullying did so primarily in term-time, with school holidays providing some light relief.
This research was undertaken by YMCA on behalf of the Be Real Campaign. The fieldwork for this research was conducted by YouthSights, a specialist youth research agency. The sample consisted of 855 young people aged between 11 and 16 years-old from across the UK. The fieldwork for this research was completed in August 2019.