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Girls are 'inheriting' worries over weight

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  • Girls are 'inheriting' worries over weight

    By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
    (Filed: 06/01/2004)

    Nine out of 10 teenage girls are unhappy with the shape of their bodies and say they have inherited their insecurities from their mothers, according to a survey.

    Research shows that the desire to be slender and "beautiful" dominates the life of 14-year-olds.

    Only one in 10 of the 2,000 girls who were questioned were happy with their appearance. The rest said their mothers had "insecure body images" and the syndrome had simply perpetuated itself.

    A fifth of the girls were overweight, but three-fifths of them thought they needed to lose weight and 64 per cent of under-13s had already been on a diet.

    Helen Johnston, the editor of Bliss magazine, which commissioned the survey, said: "Female body image obsession has reached epidemic proportions, filtering down to young girls.

    "Teenage girls look to their mums for guidance only to see them continually worrying about their own body shape and size.

    "Now many girls of 13 and 14 are dieting constantly at an age when their bodies are still developing."

    She said it was "tragic" that even girls of a normal weight wanted to be skinnier.

    "Teenage girls are gorgeous - cuddly tums, curvy thighs and bonny bums included - and it's time they believed it. They need to stop thinking thin and start thinking healthy and learn that confidence is much sexier than thin legs."

    The research disclosed some worrying facts about the lengths young girls would consider going to in their quest for the perfect body.

    More than a quarter of 14-year-olds - 26 per cent - said they had considered plastic surgery or taking diet pills, rising to 42 per cent among those who were overweight.

    Almost a fifth - 19 per cent - were "already suffering from an eating disorder" such as anorexia or bulimia.

    The survey, covering girls in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, found that 78 per cent of teenagers wanted to lose more than half a stone in weight, while 46 per cent of these wanted to lose more than a stone.

    Six out of 10 teenage girls, whatever size they were, would "be happier if they were thinner", rising to 90 per cent who thought they were overweight.

    Three-quarters of the girls thought that thin girls were more popular and attractive to boys, while 86 per cent of overweight girls thought their thinner counterparts had more girl and boy friends.

    More than half of all teenage girls despaired that they would never look like their female role model.

    When asked who they thought had the best female body, the teenagers invariably identified pop stars such as Britney Spears, Beyonce Knowles and Kylie Minogue.

    Andrea Scherzer, a psychotherapist who specialises in eating disorders, said: "These girls need to learn to value themselves as individuals first.

    "It is with the guidance of parents and other adults in close contact with teens that they can learn to shift the focus of their negative preoccupation with body shape to that of building inner strength and self-confidence."

    The magazine has launched a Love Your Body campaign to help teenage girls come to terms with their body shape.

    Four years ago Tessa Jowell, the former minister for health, held a day's consultation with women in the fashion, modelling and media industry on young women's concerns about the pressure to be thin.
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