Third of youths dissatisfied with bodies


One third of young people are unhappy with their bodies, with girls far more likely to be dissatisfied than boys, a major survey on body image has found.

The How We See It study, published today by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald, also finds boys who are dissatisfied with their bodies are unlikely to discuss their unhappiness for fear of being viewed as effeminate.

The study, which was formulated and carried out by young people from the Dáil na nÓg, is based on a survey of over 2,000 people between the ages of ten and 21 and looks at the importance of body image to them.

When asked “How important is your body image?” 82 per cent of girls said it was either slightly or very important, compared to 70 per cent of boys.

When asked if they were satisfied with their bodies the gender difference was stark, with 22 per cent of boys saying they were “very satisfied” compared with just 8 per cent of girls.

Some 49 per cent of boys and 37 per cent of girls said they were “fairly satisfied” while 26 per cent of girls and 10 per cent of boys said they were “dissatisfied”.

The age group most vulnerable to body dissatisfaction was 15 year-olds, of who 43 per cent were unhappy. More than one in five (22 per cent) of girls in this age group said they exercised and controlled diet to control their weight.

The most significant negative impact on body image was comparing oneself with others (53 per cent), followed closely by bullying (46 per cent), weight (42 per cent), media (39 per cent) and celebrities (38 per cent).

Girls (66 per cent) were most negatively influenced by comparing themselves with others, while boys (41 per cent) were most negatively impacted by bullying.

Ms Fitzgerald said it was clear that for many young people concerns about their own bodies could be a significant source of mental health issues.

“International studies repeatedly stress the serious social and health issues associated with negative body image, such as eating disorders, use of artificial supplements, interpersonal relationship problems, excessive exercise, withdrawal from participation and being subjected to teasing and bullying,” she said

Dr Angela O’Connell, research consultant who helped compile the report, said the findings reflected the intense and damaging pressure on young people to conform to “gendered ideals”, with girls seeking bodies that were frail and slim, and boys that were prematurely muscular.

She said even boys’ reluctance to talk about negative body image came from a fear of being seen as weak, effeminate or “gay” if they admitted being so concerned.

Among the young people who took part in the report was Kaila Dunne (17) from Limerick who said it was only when taking part that she realised how too important her appearance had been to her when she was 14 and 15.

“I’d have spent ages in front of the mirror before school doing my make-up and my hair. There was huge emphasis on who got Benefit or Mac make-up for Christmas.”

She says she is still aware of girls who exercise in their bedrooms before bed and who cut foods out of their diets, such as meat and dairy products, to avoid weight gain.

Four out of five (85 per cent) girls put time into their appearance, compared with 54 per cent of boys and almost two-thirds of girls (60 per cent) put emotional effort into their appearance, including planning, worrying and thinking about it, as opposed to 34 per cent of boys.

When asked whether body image influenced whether or not they took part in exercise, the majority of boys (59 per cent) said ’No’, compared with less than half the girls (44 per cent). In particular girls with a negative body image did not like to go swimming (36 per cent) compared with 16 per cent of boys.

Most (97 per cent) participants did some form of exercise, with walking the most popular among girls (78 per cent) and cycling the favourite among boys (50 per cent).

Among the report’s recommendations are that a public positive body-image awareness campaign be funded; that schools make sports less traditional and male oriented and include dance and golf for example, and, that schools incorporate body-image awareness into the curriculum.

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