Society’s emphasis on looks and beauty is fuelling a preoccupation with appearance among girls and women.
Some adolescent girls even miss school because they are concerned about the way they look.
Costing the Invisible, a publication commissioned and funded by the Government Equalities Office, reviewed the findings of 25 empirical studies on the topic, using a sample of more than 49,000 girls and women aged 10 to 60 across five continents.
One of these studies found, for instance, that 31 per cent of adolescent girls in the UK avoid taking part in classroom debate because they don’t want to draw attention to their appearance. Meanwhile 20 per cent said they stay away from school on days when they lack confidence about the way they look.
The new report, written by Dr Emma Halliwell and Dr Philippa Diedrichs from the University of the West of England and renowned psychotherapist Dr Susie Orbach, said that body image concerns hold many girls and women back from realising their full potential and aspirations – both in education and at work. It calls for urgent interventions to reverse the poor body image and poor body confidence that many girls experience.
Women and Equalities minister Jo Swinson, who wrote the foreword to the report, said: “This report shines a welcome light on what happens to girls’ aspirations and confidence when they are constantly distracted by how they appear to others.
“There is a lot of focus on the anxiety poor body image causes to young people, but much less attention on how its effects can spill out across all areas of life.
“This report forces us to consider how much creativity, energy and ambition would be unlocked if we could relieve girls from the unwavering, critical scrutiny of a society obsessed with a narrow and unrealistic ideal of beauty.”