'Ugly girl': The negative messages we send to our daughters

We tell young women that they can achieve anything they want, but the extra pressures are everywhere to be seen.

Share
Related Topics

Last week, the Everyday Sexism Project received a deeply moving entry from a fifteen-year-old girl.

It might seem shocking to some, but it was just the latest of many hundreds of similar posts we have received from girls in their teens and younger.

She wrote “I’m fifteen and feel like girls my age are under a lot of pressure…I know I am smart, I know I am kind and funny…everybody around me keeps telling me I can be whatever I want to be. I know all this but I just don’t feel that way.”

She continued: “I always feel like if I don’t look a certain way, if boys don’t think I’m ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ then I've failed and it doesn't even matter if I am a doctor or writer, I'll still feel like nothing...successful women are only considered a success if they are successful AND hot, and I worry constantly that I won't be. What if my boobs don't grow? What if I don't have the perfect body? What if my hips don't widen and give me a little waist? If none of that happens I feel like [sic] there's no point in doing anything because I'll just be the 'fat ugly girl' regardless of whether I do become a doctor or not.”

Her words reveal a keen perception of double standards in a society that tells young women they can have all the same dreams men can, study at any academic institution they wish and aim for any career path they choose, whilst simultaneously inundating them with an onslaught of daily messages that as women they will be judged almost exclusively on the basis of their looks, regardless of success.

She is even aware of this influence, writing: “I wish the people who had real power and control the images and messages we get fed all day actually thought about what they did for once… I know the girls in adverts are airbrushed. I know beauty is on the inside. But I still feel like I'm not good enough.” 

But an awareness of the effect these messages can have is not a strong enough defence against them; not for a vulnerable teenage girl in the throes of peer pressure and puberty, nor even for adult women with a keen awareness of the images and messages that manipulate our self-view. She describes the experience of watching her own mother struggle with the same expectations and insecurities:

“I watch my mum tear herself apart everyday because her boobs are sagging and her skin is wrinkling, she feels like she is ugly even though she is amazing.”

Holli Rubin, a representative of Endangered Bodies, says: “this is a problem of epidemic proportions. Over 60% of adults feel ashamed of how they look…when we put ourselves down in front of our children we are modelling a very negative view.  This gets passed down to children who internalize it and consequently begin to feel the same way.”

Within minutes of receiving the teenager’s frank account, messages were pouring in from other women, young and old, testifying to the same feelings of pressure and inadequacy regardless of age or achievement.

“As a 45-year old feminist, I also relate to [her] with my self-judgement via the mirror every day before leaving home.”

“I'm embarrassed that I can still relate to [her] at 39, educated, liberated? Still controlled by image”

“Don't be embarrassed. I'm the same. Guess we owe it to [her] generation to do what we can to change that.”

Hundreds of similar Everyday Sexism entries testify that she is far from alone amongst her peers too. One teenager, who explains that she “chooses to wear modest clothes for religious reasons”, even echoes the same words, choosing the pseudonym “Ugly Girl”:

“I've had people call me hideous, mock me for expressing feelings towards the opposite sex, and outright laugh in my face for believing I could somehow be beautiful and value myself on the inside... Just because I am a women [sic] my image is treated as the only thing that should define me and that should matter. This is the concept of sexism that haunts me in everyday life and I despise it.”

A recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image revealed girls as young as five now worry about their weight and appearance and “one in four seven year old girls have tried to lose weight at least once.” It cited research showing that 13% of girls age 10-17 would avoid even giving an opinion because of insecurities about the way they look.

Last year a teenage girl from my senior school committed suicide after a preoccupation with weight and body image prompted her to develop an eating disorder. At the inquest, the coroner referred to the pressure placed on teenagers by images of “wafer thin girls” in magazines. He stated that the fashion industry was “directly responsible for what happened”.

From the advertising industry and its narrow media ideal of female beauty to the normalised objectification of Page 3; from articles that deconstruct the outfits of female politicians to the programs teaching girls how to nip, tuck, change and disguise their bodies; these messages are everywhere, everyday. The pressure on women and young girls to conform to such stereotypes is overwhelming, and until it is tackled, it will continue to undermine attempts to convince young women like this teenager that she really can “be whatever I want to be”.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

HLTA - Higher Level Teaching Assistant

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The reactions to Renee Zellweger's face say more about us than about her

Emma Gannon
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes are named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London