Concerns about increase in appearance-related bullying


Half of young people have bullied someone, new research suggests, raising particular concerns over the extent of appearance-related bullying and its impact on victims. Pete Henshaw takes a look


Half of young people, aged 13 to 20, have bullied another person, with a third of these bullying someone at least once a week, a study has suggested.

Furthermore, the victims say that bullying is driving them to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, truancy, drugs and alcohol.

The stark reminder of the size of the challenge facing schools and anti-bullying organisations has come from the annual survey by the Ditch the Label charity, which works with schools to support vulnerable young people.

The study, involving 3,600 young people – the bulk of whom were aged 13 to 18 – found that 50 per cent said they had bullied someone, with 30 per cent of these admitting that they bullied at least once a week.

At the same time, 43 per cent of the 3,600 said they had experienced bullying at least once, with 30 per cent of these being bullied several times a week, and 44 per cent at least once a week.

The survey highlights a disparity between Ditch the Label’s definitions of bullying behaviour and what the young people themselves considered to be bullying. 

When the young people were asked if they had bullied somebody at least once, just 16 per cent said they had. However, when the young people’s behaviour was compared to Ditch the Label’s definitions of bullying, it was evident that 50 per cent had actually bullied someone at least once. 

The study states: “We asked respondents if they had ever engaged in behaviour that we consider to be bullying and we found that the percentage was significantly higher, suggesting that many young people may be bullying others without particularly knowing or acknowledging the fact that their behaviour is not acceptable.”

The nature of the bullying reported in the study varied, but most commonly included being socially excluded by their peers (82 per cent), physical attacks (74 per cent) and cyber-bullying (62 per cent). Other types included extreme verbal bullying (43 per cent) and sexual bullying (34 per cent). Extortion, where personal belongings are damaged or money is stolen, was reported by 43 per cent of victims.

The impact bullying has is also stark, with 30 per cent of victims saying they had had suicidal thoughts and 29 per cent saying they had self-harmed.

Truancy (27 per cent), eating disorders (14 per cent), drug and/or alcohol abuse (14 per cent), and running away from home (12 per cent) were other results of being bullied, the survey revealed. Bullying also had a negative impact on school studies and the home life of a majority of the victims.

Once again, the survey – which is conducted annually – showed just how much young people rely on teachers, with 92 per cent of victims saying that they turned to a teacher for help. However, 51 per cent of these were not happy with the support they received.

Furthermore, only 55 per cent of the victims told anybody that they were being bullied, with a third saying they didn’t think it would be taken seriously.  

Ditch the Label has raised particular concerns this year after half of the victims told researchers that they were bullied because of their appearance, with common factors including weight, body shape, clothing, hair colour, and skin tone or colour.

Worryingly, around half of the victims said they would now like to change their appearance – around half wanted to be thinner, around half wanted teeth-whitening, while 17 per cent wanted breast implants. Other procedures young people said they wanted included Botox, plastic surgery, and liposuction. Around half also wanted to change their skin condition.

The report recommends that schools and colleges consider using guest speakers and workshops to promote positive body image and running health campaigns featuring different healthy body shapes and sizes. It also calls on PSHE lessons to focus on issues such as anorexia and extreme dieting.

The report also warns that bullies themselves need to be supported. It states: “It is important not to overlook the fact that many students who bully others often do so as a coping mechanism when going through a stressful situation. It may be that the student is being bullied themselves or there could be abuse in their home life. 

“Try to compassionately understand a student who is bullying to the best of your ability as a means of understanding the source of the problem. Responding with negativity and punishment may not be a strategy that meets the complex needs of all students. It is progressive to avoid the villainisation of those who bully.”

In light of the numbers of young people who turn to teachers for help, the report also urges regular training in “bullying protocol” to help them be “approachable, proactive and fully aware of anti-bullying procedures”. 

Liam Hackett, founder and CEO of Ditch the Label, said: “Our survey cites attitudes towards the appearances of young people as the most common reason for bullying in the UK. The implications of appearance-based bullying are significant and can have devastating, long-term impacts. 

“The evidence is clear: young people are now considering drastic and invasive measures to alter their appearances due to insecurities and bullying. Teens as young as 13 are adding things such as liposuction and breast implants on their wish list because they want to feel accepted by their peers and society. 

“This report identifies that young people are also being failed by the existing support measures that are currently in place,” he added.

Commenting on the report, Professor Ian Rivers, a psychologist and head of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University, said: “This report demonstrates the importance that we now place upon physical appearance, weight, size and body shape. 

“It is a sad indictment on society that young people judge by how a person looks rather than by the actions or deeds. We need to encourage young people to look beyond the surface and value one another.”

Ditch the Label is a national anti-bullying charity that delivers support to thousands of vulnerable young people online and offline and provides UK schools and colleges with research and advice, training and intervention materials. Visit

CAPTION: Impact of bullying: Ditch the Label warns that self-harm is a common consequence of being bullied (PHOTO: iStock)



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