61 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 have experienced people criticising their bodies. I wish I was surprised at that figure. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not far higher.
The Girls’ Attitude Survey, published by Girlguiding UK, also found that a third of younger girls (aged seven to 10) said that other people make them believe that their value is based on their appearance.
This quote from feminist writer and campaigner Germaine Greer has always stuck with me: “Every woman knows that regardless of all her achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful.”
This is the world we live in.
A world where girls this young are made to feel in some way inadequate; that they are only as worthy as the level to which they conform to some arbitrary beauty standard.
Maybe these girls feel like they are too fat, too thin, too tall, too short; maybe they feel they aren’t the right skin colour.
These are not the thoughts that a child should have.
In the Gospel accounts of the New Testament, Jesus makes this profound statement: that anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it. A child-like posture is supposed to be wide-eyed, humble – free from preconceptions and baggage, and completely trusting.
Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence, of being carefree and cared-for – that never-to-be-relived time when you take those heady first steps into adulthood, discovering who you are and perhaps who you were created to be. But for far too many of today’s young people, their early years are being marked by increasing angst.
We know the prevalence of social media exacerbates feelings of comparison, school stresses and low body confidence and that it’s having a profound effect on our young people.
The worries, anxieties and hurts of today’s girls run contrary to how we as Christians believe things are supposed to be. Anything that takes away from the innocence that is unique to a child’s experience is an affront to God.
But it is startling just how much negative feelings about their own body image – mainly among young girls but increasingly, boys – impact their sense of self-worth and identity. Sadly this pervasive low self-esteem is all-too familiar to millions of girls and women around the world who, when they look in the mirror, feel that their bodies in some way fall short.
We are all bombarded with images of an ideal towards which we strive, relentlessly banging against the treadmill, as that ideal moves further and further away from us and becomes less and less achievable. As a result, many women and girls are living with a constant feeling that they have failed; that they are inadequate and undesirable.
At the heart of our faith lies the message that each one of us – regardless of our gender or age or ethnicity or background, regardless of what we look like – is made in the image of God in whom we believe the essence of beauty is found.
This message for me is the call to fight back against the beauty myth. Maybe it’s a challenge to listen to a still, small voice that whispers in our uncertainty that each of us is beautiful.
This post is part of our week-long series on amplifying girls’ voices for International Day of the Girl (11 October) curated by Dr Claire Rush from Girls’ Brigade Ministries.