“BE proud of yourself”, that’s the message Lancashire’s most successful women are sending out to thousands of girls struggling with the way they look.
The Children’s Society’s annual state-of-the-nation review found an estimated 12.680 girls in the county aged 10 to 15-years-old are not happy with their personal appearance - the equivalent of one in three and rising.
In Preston, 1,499 girls aged 10 to 15-years-old out of 4.462 said they felt that way, with 1,195 out of 3,558 in South Ribble.
The same report showed one in seven girls are unhappy with their lives overall.
Rob Jackson, north west area director at The Children’s Society, said: “It is desperately worrying that so many of our young people in the North West are suffering rather than thriving. Girls are having a particularly tough time and it’s clear that concerted action is needed to tackle this problem.”
One teenage girl said: “Girls feel pressured by the boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem and makes girls feel ugly or worthless.”
Now leading Lancashire businesswomen, policitians, athletes and models are calling for a sea change in attitudes, as a way to tackle the growing problem.
They want youngsters to strive for more than physical perfection and focus on aspects of life that will give long-term happiness, such as fulfilling work; strong relationships; public and charitable service.
Plus-sized beauty queen Rebecca Argent, from Lostock Hall, said: “To anyone who is struggling with negativity towards them based on their body image all I can say is it will get better and don’t let what other people say stop you from achieving your dreams - use it as motivation to kickstart your future.”
Preston women’s champion Zafar Coupland said: “If you’re a woman there’s a stereotype that you’ve got to be thin and pretty, but you can be anything and be really, really good.
“You can look like anything you want to. As long as you believe in yourself you can fly.”
Penwortham businesswoman Kirsty Henshaw said: “It’s about embracing the things you do like about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture, not just vanity.”
In contrast to the deteriorating situation for girls, the report states the proportion of boys aged 10-15 who are unhappy with their lives has remained stable at one in nine, while the proportion of boys who say they are unhappy with their appearance continues to hover around 20 per cent.
The reasons for the widening gender gap are unclear, but the report does find that emotional bullying such as name-calling, which girls are more likely to experience, is twice as common as physical bullying, which is more likely to affect boys.
Separate research by the Office for National Statistics suggests that girls are much more likely to spend extended periods on social media, which has been linked to a higher risk of mental ill-health.
Pyschology lecturer Gayle Brewer, from the University of Central Lancashire, said girls often feel inadequate because they are comparing themselves to unrealistic celebrity images in the media, and there is a growing problem of girls not wanting to attend events because of fears of photographs being posted online.
She said: “You don’t need to be phycically attractive to be successful or happy. But if you are focused on looks, then it has to be about health and strength - look to the Olympians and what an incredible job they have done.”
The Children’s Society is calling on Government to take action to improve children’s happiness across the nation with a legal entitlement for children to be able to access mental health and well-being support in schools and colleges across England and Wales.