Quest for ‘perfect’ body is harming girls’ mental wellbeing

Girlguiding Scotland member and Girlguiding Advocate Katie Horsburgh says busting the body myth is key to improving girls’ mental wellbeing.

The findings of Girlguiding’s 2015 Girls’ Attitudes Survey make for worrying reading. Two in five girls aged 11-21 have needed to seek help for a mental health concern and 62 per cent know someone who has needed help with their mental health.

So what’s behind these shocking statistics? For me, the answer is clear.The survey found that eating disorders is one of the top health concerns for girls aged 11-21, and that two in three girls know someone with an eating disorder. We know from charity Beat that 89 per cent of those with eating disorders are female.

The 2015 Girls’ Attitudes Survey also revealed 53 per cent of girls have heard remarks that belittle or degrade women in a film or on TV. Add to this the image of the ‘perfect woman’ that teenage girls are constantly bombarded with, and you come up with a cocktail of pressures on girls at a vulnerable stage in their development.

I think it’s very difficult for girls to grow up to be confident in themselves if they are surrounded by images of women with unattainable bodies who are deemed to be ‘perfect’. As a teenage girl, I can say that it is difficult not to compare yourself to the impossible beauty ideals that society pushes on us from all sides.

An example of this is the recent Protein World advert which caused an uproar for featuring a model with what many saw as an unattainable body shape in order to promote its own weight loss products.

But hearteningly, many women were outraged by this advert and took to social media to speak out. My friends and I felt the same – showing that the women of Britain want change.This year the Girls’ Attitudes Survey also found that almost three quarters of girls take part in some form of social action or raise awareness for issues they care about – showing that they are willing to take action to change the status quo.

So what else can be done? Well, we need to value girls for their skills and personalities – not their looks. Girlguiding Scotland is for all girls and treats all girls equally. It give girls a space to have adventures and gain confidence. We have a team of more than 40 ‘peer educators’ who help girls and young women beat the body myth and boost their confidence. I can definitely say that guiding has helped me to become more confident and to speak out about the issues I care about, in particular, as part of Girlguiding’s Advocate Panel.

Now its decision-makers’ turn. They must listen to girls and young women’s voices and make choices that positively affect their lives – and what they aspire to.

Katie Horsburgh