On International Day of the Girl 2019 we look into how body image has become an education barrier

According to Plan International UK's survey, one in six girls miss school or work due to worries about their appearance...

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Today marks International Day of the Girl, a time for us to highlight the challenges that girls face across the world and push for empowerment and fundamental human rights for all.

This year, we look at the body image concerns that young girls face on the regular in the UK, with global children's charity Plan International UK publishing a survey today that revealed shocking statistics.

According to their survey, body image concerns in young girls have started to obstruct education, with one in six girls missing school or work due to worries about their appearance.

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The poll, based on 1,000 girls between the ages of 14 and 21, found that a huge majority feel a great deal of pressure to look a certain way. 89% of the girls interview admitted to feeling pressure to fit an ‘ideal’ face and body type, whilst 25% admitted to feeling ‘ashamed or disgusted’ by their body.

According to Plan UK, 'these overwhelmingly negative feelings over body image are holding girls back from fully participating in society and achieving their potential'.

19% of young women in the survey have avoided public speaking due to their body image concerns, while 9% have not attended a job interview and have avoided participating in lessons, with 27% choosing to not even leave the house.

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57% of girls worry about their appearance in school or college every week, and 39% worry about their appearance in school every day. 69% of girls have avoided at least one social, school or work activity in the past 12 months due to body image concerns.

This equates to 2 million (2,030,706) girls aged 14-21. This is unacceptable.

'I got bullied through all my years at school,' one girl featured in the survey, 18-year-old Sarah from South Wales explained. 'I was called fat because of my weight and I wore jumpers and jackets to cover up myself and my body. Eventually, I stopped going in - I didn’t get any GCSEs, and the bullying gave me anxiety and depression. It’s really affected my future - my education stopped simply because I didn’t feel comfortable.'

Plan International UK is calling for society to recognise body image concerns as a gender inequality issue that affects girls’ ability to reach their potential, above and beyond the harmful impact it has on their perception of the way they look.

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Today, on International Day of the Girl, the charity is asking members of the public to pledge to do one thing - to encourage girls to reach their potential, without being held back by appearance worries. This might be by complimenting a friend, sister or daughter on who they are and not how they look, doing something themselves that they’ve always avoided due to worries about their appearance or sending a message of solidarity to the girls Plan International UK works with at www.plan-uk.org/pledge.

'We know that girls and young women experience huge pressure on their body image in every area of life, from the images they see in the media to hurtful comments at school,' explained Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK. 'But these new statistics show this is having a frightening impact on their futures, affecting their ability to take advantage of opportunities and, in some cases, preventing them from their basic rights to access education and earn a living.

'On International Day of the Girl, we want to send a clear message that society needs a makeover. Body image worries should not simply be a ‘normal’ part of growing up for girls. We need everyone to recognise this, listen to girls, and elevate their voices to create a society where girls have every chance to succeed.'

As part of Plan International UK’s girls’ rights programmes, the charity is working with The Body Shop who will be donating £25,000 to support Girls Out Loud - a safe, closed space on existing social media channels, moderated by Plan International, where girls can share and discuss the issues that matter to them, including body image.

The research was conducted online by Opinium Research amongst a representative sample of 1,004 14-21 year-old girls in the UK from 13 to 22 August 2019.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.