Body Image: the GEC and THO Young People Survey.

posted in: Mindset | 0

Body Image – Young People Survey.

Our Friends at the Global Equality Collective partnered with THO to undertake a year-long survey into body-image amongst young people.

They gathered the views of 1,146 young people aged between 12 and 30 in 63 countries worldwide and compiled an in-depth piece of research into what affected their body image, the differences between male and female images of themselves and the influences of society, media and family on how they felt about themselves.

The result?

Nothing short of a crisis in body-confidence and body image and a blueprint for what needs to change.

My body image is mainly:

Neutral            46%

Negative          39%

Positive           15%

Men and boys: My body image is mainly:

Not Positive    86%

Negative          35%

Why? The perceived need to be lean and muscular, ‘in-shape’ with ‘muscles and a 6-pack’.

Women and girls: My body image is mainly:

Not Positive    83%

Negative          42%

Why? The perceived need to look ‘in-shape with an hourglass figure’ with ‘wide hips, big bum and big lips…’


The survey looks at the influence of this pressure from various angles according to someone’s racial identity and the results were further causes for concern.

Between 64 and 71% of people surveyed across all racial groups and ages said that they would change their physical appearance based on pressure they felt from either social-media or local pressures, for example cultural expectations.

Across the world people felt the need to look a certain way, including references to – height, muscularity, thinness, hair thickness and colour, facial hair and skin lightness / tone.

In the UK the highest contributing factor to those wanting to change their appearance to conform to expectations was social media – with 67% saying they HAD changed their appearance after feeling pressure from content on image / video sharing platforms.

The link between success and beauty is solidly linked in many social media accounts – targeted at both men and women – with aspirational influencers sharing ‘their lifestyles’ and product placements implying that these products, treatments and images are all constituents of success. Success apparently looks like tanned skin, white teeth, gym visits, diet and protein supplements…

So where does this leave young people?

Daily and compulsively immersed in a world which appeals to them, is used and inhabited by their friends and people they look up to, but which ultimately makes them feel unhappy, ugly and unfulfilled.

Young people in the survey stated that they want schools to do more – one 17-20 year old wanted ‘more to be done in schools to promote body positivity’

Older people in the survey wanted more to be done to support body-positivity in workplaces.

For me, helping parents understand their role in supporting their children’s mental health, body image – including role modelling body positivity – and having conversations about the influences (and influencers) they will see on social media is crucial in building self-confidence and resilience against the relentless tide of body shaming and unhealthy attitudes they will come across in many spheres of society.

In short, there is a lot we as a society can do to improve young peoples’ body image, but it all comes down to:

  1. Us as individuals role-modelling healthier approaches to our appearance.
  2. Understanding that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ body – regardless what different parts of society or culture tells us.
  3. Being open about the fact that if someone is telling you that your body is ‘wrong’ or ‘should be like this’, then they’re likely going to benefit or profit from your disappointment – be they “influencers” with a product or programme to sell, a gym who want your subscription or a cosmetic or diet company who WANT you to feel ugly and wrong so they can sell you a solution.

Let’s be honest about the way marketing works – cosmetic and diet companies have always profited from peoples’ (largely women’s) misery – so they ACTIVELY WANT YOU TO BE UNHAPPY with your appearance…let’s face it, women spend billions every year worldwide on ‘Make UP’ – with the not-so-subtle message that you need to make yourself UP before you are seen in public.

Let’s be honest about the profit imperative.

Let’s be honest and open that none of us is perfect, and, judging by the standards and tactics of the beauty industry, we never will be because they keep changing the definition of ‘perfect’. This is repeated year after year across the world with millions of young people.

The beauty and fashion, lifestyle and ‘health’ business models ALL depend on our disappointment and disgust and the subsequent desire to improve how we look through spending money on the ‘next wonder drug / product / solution / lifestyle tip’.

Let’s take a stand, be honest about the profit-drivers behind the influencers and educate young people to be more media savvy and braver…after all, nothing is more attractive that someone fully embracing themselves with all the confidence they can muster.


To download the report please visit the GEC’s website here.

For programmes about Masculinity, Male health, coercive control and domestic abuse for Healthy Relationships and PSHE / SRE please have a look here.