The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Protecting the Next Generation of Women

Research agency Razor Kids shared a preview with CMF of research they've been conducting around girls and their aspirations and self image,

The 8th March was International Women’s Day and this month Razor Kids are addressing the issues facing the next generation of young women, and the need to better protect them.

We recently spoke to girls aged 8-14 around the UK - with a focus on their self-image, identity development, and the unrealistic pressures and ideals that bombard them daily.

If you listen to girls talk about what it’s like growing up in 2018, it sounds like a positive story, on the surface. They have greater aspirations and opportunities for their careers, along with an array of positive, female role models to emulate. Many cite their mums as someone they aspire to be like.

But, if you believe the rhetoric preached at schools, you’ll hear that there are wider definitions around identity and greater acceptance around diversity. They are growing up as a generation, able to decide what gender they want to be that day, and are given multiple opportunities to express their individuality, values and beliefs. Sexuality doesn’t have to be set in stone. However, media content and advertising imagery still presents the world with a very narrowly defined view of what is regarded as socially acceptable and idealised norms.

Transitioning into a teenager always comes with angst, self-doubt, and a need for peer acceptance - but this has been exacerbated for teens who are active on social media, sharing and living their lives under public scrutiny. They feel compelled to post selfies that will increase their ‘likes’, take photos to keep their ‘streaks’ up, and tell the world what they are up to and how they are feeling. Given their tender age, it isn’t surprising that they don’t all have the emotional resilience to cope with being judged so openly and harshly.

Our study found that regardless of location/family set-up/age, as soon as girls become active on social media (especially Instagram) they tend to experience feelings of insecurity. When scrolling through posts from peers, vloggers and celebrities, they feel pressurised to be as good at everything. This relates to the way they look and dress - as well as needing to showcase cues that suggest their talent and popularity. The irony is that a media platform that could (and should) be a tool to celebrate diversity is instead re-establishing a confined perspective of what is considered aspirational. This is being reinforced by beauty advertising that seemingly not only lacks diversity but also authenticity.

The 12-14 year-olds we spoke to are angry. They criticise beauty brands as being unrepresentative of their vision and definition of beauty. They are confused about who are models, who are their peers, and whether the beauty they see is real or has been manipulated. The benchmarks on how they should present themselves are being pushed to unattainable limits. They lament that social media relentlessly feeds them imagery that all looks the same.

Despite this, the icons they look up to are respected for their inner qualities such as their positivity, supporting causes they affiliate with, and their bravery and boldness in being unique (e.g. Nikki Lilly). This is also reflected in the rise in popularity of transgender vloggers, such as James Charles and Patrick Starr. The result is a generation of teens who feel squeezed and marginalized, in how they want to express themselves or develop their identity.

As sub-cultures become homogenised, it is having a devastating impact on the girls who don’t feel like they fit in. We’ve read the numerous stats and studies that show the burden of being a teen today. Depression, eating disorders, and self-harm are, sadly, on the rise.

So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s act to support our next generation of women. It’s time to celebrate real beauty that emphasises what’s inside and allows girls to be proud of their quirks and uniquely defining beauty marks. It’s time to slam the selfies and poke fun at the posers. Girls growing up today truly believe that the world is a better place with diversity. Surely it’s time that content and messaging aimed at them represents this?

Our full report - Beauty and the Beast - will be available at the end of March 2018. Contact Lesley Salem, head of Razor Kids for further details.


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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)