Around half of girls and young women regularly alter their photos to enhance their appearance online and “find acceptance”, Girlguiding’s annual Girls’ Attitudes survey found.
Some 34% of 11 to 21-year-olds said they would not post a photo of themselves online without using a filter or app to enhance it first, with older girls more likely to say this.
And 33% said they have deleted pictures which did not get enough attention.
The charity surveyed 2,186 girls and young women aged between seven and 21 across the UK for its annual report, which will be released in full in late September.
It said the increased time spent online during lockdown, coupled with exposure to “unrealistic” images of girls and young women, is exacerbating the pressures they face.
Almost four in 10 (39%) of the 1,473 respondents aged 11-21 said they feel upset that they cannot look the same in real life as they do online, with 44% saying fear that others will criticise their body stops them from agreeing to have their picture taken.
One respondent said: “I find it hard to go through Insta(gram) because everyone looks perfect and it lowers my self-confidence.”
Girlguiding advocate Phoebe Kent, from Reading, said she feels influencer culture is one of the most damaging phenomena to emerge on social media.
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As a young school girl, she would think “how can everyone look so good online?” when filtered photos of her peers appeared on social media.
The 20-year-old, who is studying French and economics at the University of Warwick, said:
“I think now because I’m older I’m able to critique the things I see online, and overcome it, but for younger girls and young women it just absolutely knocks your self-esteem.
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“I know so many people that have just ended up coming off social media because they can’t deal with the detrimental impact on their confidence and wellbeing. It’s definitely impacting on mental health for so many girls and young women.
“It’s just such a shame that girls have to resort to coming off social media, and doing things like trying to change the way they look just to make themselves feel more confident, when in reality most of the things they see aren’t realistic at all.”
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Eight out of 10 respondents aged 11-21 have considered changing how they look, with more than half thinking this would improve their confidence or make them feel better about themselves.
More than half felt pressured to change their appearance after viewing online adverts, rising to 67% of the girls who identify as LGBQ.
Three-quarters would like to see cosmetic procedures, such as lip fillers and Botox, banned for under-18s, while two-thirds would like to see new legislation preventing them from being exposed to adverts for diets or weight loss.
Girlguiding chief executive Angela Salt said:
“Young people are an important part of our recovery, but they are undoubtedly one of society’s hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic.
“We are proud to be able to offer girls and young women help and support to navigate these relentless pressures and aim to extend our reach further, so even more can benefit from the support Girlguiding provides.”
Girlguiding has submitted evidence to this year’s Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into body image.
It offers members opportunities to build their resilience and self-esteem through activities such as the Media Critic badge, where girls are taught to look at news articles, TV and films with a critical eye.
Hazel Johnstone, senior programmes manager at People’s Postcode Lottery, which supported the research, said:
“Girls and young women are facing so many challenges, and, as well as taking action to tackle these pressures, having access to tools to build resilience and confidence is crucial to ensure girls can live hopeful, confident futures.”