‘Am I Bovvered?: What are teenage girls really thinking?’
How is the media shaping the ambitions and aspirations of the next generation of young women?
Report by Fiona Bawdon, WiJ committee member
A Women in Journalism Summit
18 September 2007 womeninjournalism.co.uk
1. The view from the media, page 3-6
2. Background and introduction, page 7
3. Research summary, page 8-9
4. Is this what equality looks like? All lads and ladettes together, page 10-13
5. Teenage girls: What are you like?, page 14-16
6. Teenage girls and the media: A love/hate relationship?, page 17-18
7. Body image: Pressure to be pretty and thin,
8. Sex, drugs and alcohol: If it’s OK for Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse, why not me?, page 22-24
9. Educational achievement: Girls outperform boys at just about every stage of their educational careers, page 25-27
10. Role models and ambitions: Just because they’re bad role models, doesn’t mean we don’t want to be like them, page 28-29
11. What is Women in Journalism?, page 30
1. The view from the media...
‘Three girls [two aged 17, one of 16] found guilty of an attack in which a teenage boy was sexually assaulted were yesterday handed detention orders...The victim was punched and kicked and forced to strip and perform a sex act. The attack was filmed on a mobile phone...’ Independent, 31 August 2007
‘The lads’ mag FHM was yesterday found guilty of a significant breach of the Press Complaints Commission code for publishing a topless picture of a 14-year-old girl without her consent. Solicitors acting on behalf of the girl’s parents said the picture... had a “significant effect on her emotionally and at school”.’ Guardian, 12 September 2007
Zara Phillips shows off her fuller figure as she prepares to defend European title
Equestrian Zara Phillips ditched her jodhpurs for a less than flattering outfit as she walked the course of the European Equestrian Championship.... Zara looked out of sorts in a white vest and ill-fitting cargo-style shorts which hinted at a fuller figure than usual....Daily Mail, 15 September 2007
‘So why, suddenly, should so many famous young people, chiefly women, be falling apart? Obviously, fame is part of the problem, but what distinguishes these girls is the ordinariness of their downfalls. The paparazzi who stalk [Amy] Winehouse outside the Hawley Arms gastropub will have to step over other aspiring “Camden caners”, drunk and showing their knickers in the gutter, in order to pursue their prey.’ Mary Riddell, Observer, 2 September 2007
‘There is something predatory because they are made by adult men and women. Is it because of my age that makes me feel they are wrong? I don’t think so. I would have objected to them when I was 20.’ Bob Geldof talking about magazines aimed at teenage girls, Grumpy Old Men, BBC2, Autumn 2004
‘Girls vastly outnumber boys in a new league table of the country’s brightest pupils. They perform only marginally better at the age of 11 but then race far ahead by the time they leave secondary school...At the end of primary school, girls made up 52 per cent of England’s brightest pupils. But by the age of 16, that had soared to 60 per cent.’ Telegraph, 21 June 2007
‘Casual sexual behaviour, often fuelled by alcohol, is causing an alarming rise in sexually transmitted infections among teenage girls and young men, the Health Protection Agency said yesterday. ...Among teenage girls aged 16 to 19 the numbers catching genital herpes - an unpleasant sexual infection which is treatable but never completely cured - are up by 16%.’ Guardian, 21 July 2007
‘Girls are experiencing rising levels of cyber bullying - by text message or email; and those who report being cyber bullied report having fewer friends and are more likely to feel lonely at school.’ British Psychological Society, press release, 2007 annual conference.
‘Teenage girls in the UK are now bigger binge drinkers than boys, new figures reveal. In 2003 29% of girls were binge drinking, compared to 26% of boys, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD) found. When the survey was last carried out in 1999, 33% of 15- and 16-year-old boys were binge drinkers, ahead of the 27% of girls who were also binge drinking.’ Daily Mail, 14 December 2004
‘Girls still beating boys at A-level but gap narrowing’
‘Boys have narrowed the A-level performance gap between them and girls for the third year running but girls are still outshining boys at grade A in each of the main subjects, today’s results show.’ Education Guardian, 17 August 2006
‘...the crop of female students now hitting the “milk round” of university recruitment is so “outstanding” that companies are struggling to find men to match them, according to Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) - who calls today for “remedial action” to help the boys left trailing in their wake.’ Observer, chief political correspondent, Gaby Hinscliff, 15 August 2004
‘[The media] gives us the impression that thin is beautiful and that we have to be thin if we want happiness and success in life;’ ‘The change I would wish for is to stop praising thin celebrities and constantly printing articles about dieting over and over.’ Teenagers suffering from eating disorders (‘Time to tell’, B-eat, February 2006).
‘In today’s body- and image-conscious culture, where to be very thin is considered beautiful and to be at normal body weight is unacceptable, dieting and eating disorders are increasingly common...It is time to tell young people, parents, the medical profession and the media that patients with mental illnesses must be accorded the same respect and treatment as those presenting with physical problems.’ Dr Peter Rowan, eating disorders consultant, Priory Hospital (‘Time to tell’, B-eat, February 2006).
‘Becca has a late start for school today and last night she gave me strict instructions not to wake her up, so I didn't. Now, at 10.10am, just as I'm hanging on the phone trying to get through to Parcelforce, she appears, panda-eyed and flustered.
"Why the fuck didn't you wake me?" Living with teenagers, Guardian, 24 March 2007
2.Background and introduction How Women in Journalism’s first-ever summit came about ‘Am I bovvered? What are teenage girls really thinking?’ was originally the idea of WiJ founder member Ginny Dougary, who first suggested an event to explore what impact the media is having on the ambitions, self-image and aspirations of teenage girls.
Ginny’s initial idea was met with great enthusiasm by the WiJ committee. We all agreed it would be a worthwhile and interesting thing for the group to do. Similarly, the idea has really struck a chord with just about everyone we approached to get involved. Most of the time, once we’d explained the title, we didn’t need to say much more; they were sold.
‘Am I bovvered?’ is an obvious homage to Catherine Tate’s comic anti-heroine Lauren Cooper - but it also neatly encapsulates the fears and concerns that many of us seem to have about the next generation of young women.
But are we right to be concerned; and what, exactly, are we concerned about?
Response to this event seemed to tap into an underlying assumption that something has gone (or is going) wrong with today’s teenage girls. But what is the evidence for that? Hasn’t it always been the lot of young women to be pilloried for their behaviour, dress, and supposed excesses? Has anything really changed?
We hope today’s discussions will help shed light on to what has become a heated debate.
This paper is intended to inform the debate - both at the event itself and beyond. We drew on research from a wide range of organisations to create a unique picture of the concerns, contrasts and contradictions that make up teenage girls’ lives. We drew on research from diverse sources, ranging from the Girl Guides, to the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health, to the Samaritans, to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs, to the Office of National Statistics.
So, are teenage girls really bovvered?; If so, why and what are they bovvered about?; And should we be bovvered about them?
With the help of the 100 or so teenagers with us today, we are hoping to find out.
3. Research summary See individual sections for more detail and full references
Teenage girls and the media (page 17-18)
Teenage girls are highly influenced by the media, but they don’t particularly like or trust it. Most of them think it misrepresents and stigmatises them. They blame its focus on skinny celebrities for making them more susceptible to eating disorders - a view shared by some professionals working in this field.
Media coverage concentrates on negative stories about young people. One in three articles about them is about crime. Young people themselves are rarely asked for their opinions by journalists and rarely quoted in articles about them and their behaviour.
Body image (page 19-21)
Young women feel under pressure from the media to be ‘pretty and thin’. The most influential role models are Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham. The older girls get, the more likely they are to be unhappy with their weight and to be on a diet.
The number of women with eating disorders is on the rise - with girls as young as 8 being diagnosed. Death rates - including from suicide - are high. Sufferers are also more likely to go on to abuse drugs and alcohol. The younger the sufferer the more likely their health is to be damaged.
Many sufferers say it would help if the media showed images of more ‘real bodies’. Professionals working with anorexics and bulimics say the causes of eating disorders are complex but the media does play a part. The focus on skinny bodies makes it harder for sufferers to recover.
Sex, drugs and alcohol (page 22-24)
Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rates in Western Europe. The number of conceptions among under 16s is going up. Girls from poorer areas are more likely to get pregnant than richer ones, and less likely to have an abortion.
The media has a role to play in creating a climate where young girls are more likely to have sex, according to experts in sexual health. One type of risky behaviour often leads to another - if teenagers are abusing alcohol, they are more likely to have unprotected sex. 40% of sexually active 13- and 14-year-olds were drunk or stoned when they first had sex. Public health messages about responsible behaviour are drowned out by the volume of coverage given to celebrity behaviour involving sex, drugs and alcohol.
Girls are now bigger binge drinkers than boys. Rates of drunkenness among girls are rising; for boys, they are falling.
Educational achievement(page 25-27)
Girls not only do better than boys in their GCSEs and A-levels but at just about every stage of their educational careers. From key stage 1 (5- to 7-years), right through to degree level, they get better results. At university, the numbers of males and females getting first class degrees are equal, but more women than men get upper seconds.
One explanation may be that girls consistently do more homework than boys. By age 15, twice as many girls as boys are doing three or more hours a night.
Role models and ambitions(page 28-29)
Young girls ambitions are heavily influenced by the media. Many young girls in particular want to be ‘famous’, wanting to be TV presenters, models or popstars. Nearly half of 10- to 15-year-olds want to be on reality television.
Teenage girls think the likes of Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham and skinny models and celebrities are bad role models, but also believe they are very influential.
Young girls’ career ambitions narrow as they get older. Doing well in a career and success at school or university is less important to older teenagers than to younger ones. Nearly half of 16- to 25-year-olds say getting married is very important.
4.Is this what equality looks like? All lads and ladettes together The timing of Women in Journalism’s summit on teenage girls and the media could hardly have been better. Just last week, lad mag FHM was censured for publishing a topless photo of a 14-year-old girl. Journalist Fiona Bawdon, who conducted WiJ’s research into this area, looks at questions raised by this case and the spread of ‘lad culture’ more generally Girls outperform boys academically, apparently taking pride in their intellectual abilities, and yet each week hundreds of them send in topless pictures of themselves to lad mags like FHM and Nuts. Research shows that girls do more homework than boys - and yet they also do more binge drinking.
Last week, FHM magazine was condemned for publishing a picture of a topless 14-year-old without her consent. The PCC ruled publication of the picture was a serious intrusion into the girl’s private life; the solicitor acting for her parents, who brought the complaint, said it ‘had a significant effect on her emotionally and at school’.
FHM told the Press Complaints Commission it had ‘no reason to believe’ the picture was taken without consent and, anyway, ‘she certainly appeared to be older’. However, the commission said it would have been a serious intrusion ‘regardless of how old she was’.
Would FHM have escaped
censure for publishing the
naked breasts of this child
if she’d said it was OK?
FHM’s defence - that she consented and anyway looked older - is a line of argument that will be familiar to many a paedophile. At what point do grown men looking at teenage breasts stop being ‘lads’ and start being ‘paedos’?
Would the magazine have escaped censure for publishing the naked breasts of this child if she’d said it was OK? Would it have been OK if she’d been 16? It is, of course, entirely possible that this child would still have suffered emotional damage from appearing topless even if she’d wanted her picture to be sent in. Do lad mag publishers owe any responsibility to young breast-baring teenagers to protect them from behaviour their more mature selves might regret?
This particular teenager may not have wanted her picture published, but many others do. Lad mags say they are deluged with photos sent in by women, posing either topless or in their underwear. FHM says its gets 1,200 such pictures a week, many of which are sent by the women themselves. The Nuts website includes an ‘Assess My Breasts’ page (‘click here to upload your breasts’) where women can invite men they’ve never met to give their breast marks out of 10. Given this, wrote Decca Aitkenhead recently in the Guardian: ‘It is no wonder a lot of men now genuinely believe that women want to be treated as sex objects.’
But it’s not just the girl next door who is (it seems) increasingly willing to strip for the camera. The two latest successful and respected actresses to do just that (albeit with their bras still on) are Nicole Kidman (in a shoot for Vanity Fair magazine) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (in a series of underwear ads). In one photo, Gyllenhaal is shown in black underwear, handcuffed to a chair, legs splayed.
Kidman and Gyllenhaal are not obvious candidates for this kind of lads-mag-lite posing. Both are regarded as serious actors; both have, in the main, avoided obvious stereotyping in their choice of roles.
Are ordinary teenage girls
more ready to strip off
because they’re used to seeing
the likes of Kidman and Gyllenhaal
in their underwear; or is it the
other way around?
It’s hard to know who is setting the agenda here. Are ordinary teenage girls more ready to strip off because they’re used to seeing the likes of Kidman and Gyllenhaal in their underwear; or is it the other way around?
In any event, overtly lusting over young naked flesh is no longer solely the preserve of ‘lads’ (if, indeed, it ever was).
Websites for magazines aimed at girls as young 10 include galleries of ‘lush lads’, some posing shirtless, to be rated out of 10. Mizz (target age range 10-14) invites readers to ‘rate out hotties’.
The website for Sugar magazine currently includes a picture of 13-year-old Sam, from London’, whose bare shoulders are clearly visible. Daniella, from Essex, sent his pic ‘because I think he’s buff’. Readers are invited to give him - along with dozens of other boys in the gallery - marks out of 10.
Boys are ‘Hot Lads or Mingers’; ‘Sexy or Sling him’. Again, in language which wouldn’t be out of place in a lad mag, readers are variously exhorted to ‘feast your eyes’ and ‘try not to dribble too much’.
Are the parents of teenage boys any more comfortable with this kind of objectification of their children than the parents of the FHM 14-year-old? Could young boys equally be damaged by this kind of uninvited exposure?
Is this what equality now looks like?
But it’s not just boys that these teen girl magazine websites hold up for rating. In further blurring of the lines between teen sites and lad mag sites, under the heading, ‘How Sexy Am I?’ Bliss’s website (target age 14-17) invites girls to send in pictures of themselves (albeit clothed) to be marked out of 10 ‘on looks and pull-ability’.
Options in answer to the question:
‘How do you rate your looks?’
range from: ‘Beautiful’
through to “Ewwww’
Handily for the ‘mingers’ among them, Bliss website offers readers the chance to buy ‘Airbrush Me’ software (‘Look gorgeous in all your pics!!’) which can be used to correct skin tone and remove spots or other blemishes.
Bliss’s website is also running a survey, which invites readers to cast an almost forensically critical eye over their own bodies. Options in answer to the question: ‘How do you rate your looks?’ range from: ‘Beautiful’ through to “Ewwww’. For 10 parts of their anatomy, including their tummy, thighs, legs and boobs, readers are asked to rate whether they are: ‘happy’; ‘unhappy’; or ‘hate ‘em’. (The answer ‘love ‘em’ does not feature.)
In another strong echo of lad mag-ism, the same Bliss survey also asks its teenage girl readers to vote on who has the best boobs out of Pink, Jessica Simpson, Colleen McLoughlin and Carly Zucker; and who has the best bum out of JLo, Beyonce, Misha Barton and Kylie.
The reader’s reward for taking part in the survey is the chance to ‘blag a beauty bag’, the main contents of which appear to be ‘clean feel’ sanitary towels.
It’s hard to see what purpose such a
survey serves, other than for
scoping the teen market for
potential plastic surgery customers
Should a teen magazine really be encouraging young girls to think in terms of ‘hating’ their still developing bodies? It’s hard to see what possible purpose such a survey can serve, other than for scoping the teen market for potential plastic surgery customers.
Sugar magazine runs an annual modelling competition (‘Want fame, freebies and fit lads?’) giving girls from age 13 the chance to be ‘spotted by our model scouts’. With research suggesting over a third of 10- to 14-year-olds want to be models, no doubt the competition is a big hit with Sugar readers.
However, given mounting evidence of health problems among very young models and fears about their being exploited by the industry, rather than running modelling competitions aimed at 13 year olds, perhaps Sugar would be serving its teen readers better if it became a vociferous supporter of the proposed ban on under 16s on the catwalk.
Fiona Bawdon is a freelance journalist and WiJ committee member
5. Teenage girls: what are you like? Teenage girls may be increasingly matching (or surpassing) teenage boys drink for drink, but talk of wider ‘gender-blurring’(1) - girls becoming more like boys - is exaggerated.
As Women in Journalism’s round-up of recent research shows, teenage girls still have their own distinct way of doing things.
Teenage girls are slightly less likely than boys of the same age to be medically overweight; but nearly twice as likely to be unhappy about their weight (46.4% compared with 24.4%) by the time they reach 15 years old. A quarter of 15-year-old girls will be trying to diet, compared with fewer than one in 10 (9.3%) boys(2).
Teenage girls are less likely
than boys to be medically overweight
but nearly twice as likely as
boys to be unhappy
about their weight
Despite their worries about being fat, girls are more reluctant to take up exercise(2), with fewer than 3 out of 10 (28.8%) of 15-year-old girls doing the recommended amount of physical exercise, compared with nearly half (47.8%) of boys. Although older girls are more concerned about their weight than younger ones, the older they get, the lazier they get, compared with boys. It’s at the age of 11 where gap between exercise done by boys and girls is narrowest.
Girls watch about the same amount of television as boys, but do far more homework (2). They are twice as likely to do three or more hours studying a night than boys - and the disparity between time spent on homework by boys and girls increases with age.
Girls are much more law-abiding than boys - and they grow out of criminal behaviour two years earlier. The peak age for female offenders is 15; for males, it’s 17; four out of five offenders are male(3).
Girls are more likely to skip breakfast than boys; they’re more likely to eat fruit and vegetables every day; less likely to have daily fizzy drinks; but just as likely as boys to eat sweets every day(2).
Over 60% of 15-year-old girls sometimes miss breakfast on a school day, compared with 37.6% of boys. As the researchers point out, failure to eat first thing ‘leads to mid-morning fatigue and interferes with cognition and learning.’ However, this doesn’t appear to affect girls’ academic performance, as they continue to outshine boys in just about every subject at just about every age group.
The proportion of girls eating fruit and vegetables every day stays fairly consistent from the age of 11 up to 15, despite older girls being relatively free from parental influence over what they eat. Marginally more 15-year-old girls have sweets and soft drinks every day than eat daily fruit (32.5%, 36%, and 28.3%, respectively).
Marginally more 15-year-old
girls have sweets and
soft drinks every day
than eat daily fruit
Girls are less likely than boys to be satisfied with their lives and feel less healthy. The older girls get, the less likely they are to report that their health is ‘good’ or ‘excellent’(2). At age 11, a fifth say their health is only ‘fair’ or ‘poor’; by age 15, over a third (33.2%) say it is. The proportion of boys rating their health as only ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ is relatively static between age 11 and 15, hovering around 17-19%.
Only 77% of 15-year-old girls, compared with nearly 85% of boys, say they are highly satisfied with their lives - although for both genders satisfaction decreases between age 11 and 15.
The researchers speculate that part of the reason for girls’ reporting poorer health and lower levels of satisfaction may be down to greater expectations put on them. ‘Girls feel more pressure in areas such as body image, social relations and school. Because girls, to a greater extent than boys, have to cope with more conflicting socialization tasks, they may also be more vulnerable to developing poor health.’(2)
Despite being less happy with their lot in life, girls are far less likely to kill themselves than boys. Between, 2000-2005, more than three times as many boys aged 15-24 killed themselves as girls in the same age group(4) (3.301 compared with 937 in the UK and Republic of Ireland).
Females have lower pass rates for their driving tests than males (35.8% and 47.8%, respectively) but are much safer drivers once they are on the road. From 2002-2005, three times as many young male drivers were killed or seriously injured than girls (3,545 and 1,089, respectively).
However, while they may be relatively safe drivers, being a young woman passenger is dangerous if the car is driven by a novice male driver. Young male drivers carrying passengers, are now the biggest killer of young women in this country(5).
Young male drivers carrying
passengers, are now the
biggest killer of young
women in this country
Two-thirds of 16- to 25-year-olds say they are not treated with respect by boys their own age or by politicians(5). Nearly three-quarters say they are not treated with respect by the media (73%) or the fashion industry (71%), either(6).
And finally, perhaps reflecting their greater emphasis on looks, girls are more likely than boys to post pictures of themselves on online social networking sites, like MySpace (83% compared with 72%)(7).
(1) Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health & HIV, Sex Drugs, Alcohol & Young People, June 2007
(2) Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, Young People’s Health in Context, June 2004
(3) Office for National Statistics
(5) Transport Select Committee, Report on Novice Drivers, July 2007
(6) Girlguiding UK, Girls Shout Out!, March 2007
(7) Pew Internet & American Life Project, Teens, Privacy & Online Social Networks, April 2007
6.Teenage girls and the media A love/hate relationship? Teenage girls are great consumers of the media - with nearly 30% of 15-year-olds watching four or more hours of TV a day(1). The media has a significant impact on their personal ambitions and aspirations - with nearly half of 10- to 15-year-olds wanting to be on reality TV(2). But despite this, young women don’t particularly like or trust much of the media.
Some 67% of 16- to 25-year-old women said they felt deliberately misrepresented by the media; and four out of five (79%) said the media is more interested in stigmatising young people than helping them(2). They also blame its focus on skinny celebrities and dieting for making them more susceptible to eating disorders - a view shared by some professionals working in this field (see report section 7, Body image).
Nearly half of 10- to
15-year-olds want to
be on reality TV Tabloid newspapers were seen as particularly untruthful, with 57% saying they distrusted them. Broadsheets fared better, with two-fifths (41%) saying they trusted them ‘most of the time’ (compared with 2% saying the same of the tabloids). However, nearly one in 10 (9%) didn’t trust the broadsheets, either.
Only a quarter of them trusted TV news ‘most of the time’; which fared less well than on-line news, which was trusted by 31% of respondents aged 16 to 25.
However, the same girls who profess to distrust the media, also appear to believe its stereotyping - even when those stereotypes concern other teenage girls. Some 55% of 10- to 15-year-olds(2) said they sometimes worry ‘when they come across a group of girls they don’t know’, suggesting that they, too, are influenced by stories about ‘girl gangs’ and violent behaviour by young women.
The same girls who profess
concern other teenage girls It’s perhaps not hard to see why young people might be sceptical about the media. A survey of over 1,000 13- to 18-year-olds (boys and girls) concluded that the media focuses on the ‘attitudes and behaviour of a “troubled” minority’ of young people(3). It cites evidence that:
Less than one in 10 articles
about young people actually
quote young people or
include their perspectives
in the debate
* 71% of media stories about young people are negative, while only 14% are positive. One in three articles about young people is about crime.
* Young people were referred to as thugs 26 times and as yobs 21 times in a survey of tabloid and broadsheet articles about young people and crime. Other descriptions included evil, lout, monsters, brutes, scum, menace, heartless, sick, menacing and inhuman.
* Less than one in 10 articles about young people actually quote young people or include their perspectives in the debate.
(1) Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, Young People’s Health in Context, June 2004
(2) Girlguiding UK, Girls Shout Out!, March 2007
(3) Nfp Synergy/Scouts, Typical Young People, January 2007
7. Body image Pressure to be pretty and thin Over half of 16- to 25-year-olds and a quarter of 10- to 15-year-olds in a study of 3,000 young women say the media makes them feel ‘being pretty and thin’ is the most important thing(1). More than 95% said the role models with the most influence (albeit, they believed, bad) over young girls were Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham - both of whom are famously skinny.
In another study, nearly 30% (29.6%) of 11-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their body weight, and one in 10 (11%) is on a diet(2). By the age of 15, 46% of girls are dissatisfied with their weight, and a quarter of them are dieting.
Girls as young as 8
are now being diagnosed
with eating disorders
Professionals working in this field are convinced the numbers of teenage girls with eating disorders are going up - and that sufferers are getting younger. The majority of sufferers are aged 14-25 - but girls as young as 8 have been diagnosed. An estimated 20% of sufferers are male.
The eating disorders charity B-eat estimates that over a million people will be affected by an eating disorder at any one time. However, according, to chief executive Susan Ringwood, organisations like hers are hampered by the lack of up-to-date research into the numbers affected.
The last reliable survey on eating disorders dates back to 1990, and hasn’t been updated since, she says. However, in Scotland, where new research was done in 2006, there had been a 40% increase since the 1990 study. ‘There’s no reason to believe the rest of the UK is any different,’ says Ringwood.
Ringwood points out that the British Fashion Council was quick to act after the deaths of two Brazilian catwalk models from anorexia, by setting up an inquiry(3), yet government funds to investigate the far bigger issue of the impact of eating disorders among the general population have not been forthcoming.
The outlook for eating disorder sufferers and their families is bleak. According to Prof Janet Treasure, director of the eating disorders unit at South London & Maudsley NHS Trust, death rates of sufferers are 7-8 times higher than for the general population. The suicide risk for bulimics is 200 times greater than the norm, according to Ringwood.
Prof Treasure says: ‘Eating disorders are one of the leading causes of disease burden in terms of years of life lost through death or disability in young women. The family are usually the main carers. They report similar difficulties to carers of people with psychosis but are more distressed. The burden of care giving and other societal costs have never been examined in economic terms.’
Sufferers are also more likely to go on to abuse drugs and alcohol and the younger the sufferer the more likely their long-term health is likely to be damaged.
In a survey of 1,000 young people with eating disorders(4), 42% said the one thing that would help prevent such conditions would be the media showing ‘more “real” bodies’. This compares with just 20% who cited greater understanding from parents; and 20% who cited greater medical knowledge, as being key to greater prevention. ‘Why can’t the media promote healthy, normal sized people,’ laments one typical respondent.
42% of young women with
eating disorders said the
one thing that would help
prevent such conditions would
be the media showing
more “real” bodies An as yet unpublished, study of the health implications of the ‘size zero culture’, by Prof Treasure and others says: ‘Media images depicting thin women reduce body related self-esteem in young women.’ Analysis of evidence from 25 separate studies(5) cited in the report found that adolescents are among the most susceptible to these kinds of pressures. Because their bodies are still developing, they are also the group most likely to suffer long-term ill-effects from eating disorders.
Ringwood gave evidence to the Model Health Inquiry and supports its conclusions. However, she is disappointed that it restricted its remit to looking at ways to protect young women in the modelling industry, rather than the impact of skinny models on the wider population.
Ringwood accepts it would be a gross over simplification to blame the rise in eating disorders entirely on the media’s current focus on dieting and thinness - but she does believe it has a part to play.
Research shows that the causes of eating disorders are many and complex, says Ringwood. They include factors like genetic disposition and personality type, often compounded by traumatic life events like bereavement or bullying. ‘The final piece of the jigsaw is the social context,’ she says. If you add a media which celebrates skinny bodies over all other types into the mix, numbers of sufferers are bound to increase(8).
Clinicians working with sufferers also believe media images of skinny women ‘is a maintaining factor’ - making it more difficult for eating disorder sufferers to recover. ‘Sufferers say, “How come it’s OK for them [celebrities] to look like that and not me? How come they’re being celebrated on the front of a magazine and I’m in hospital being told I’m going to die?”,’ says Ringwood.
It would be wrong to suggest that media coverage of skinny women is universally positive - far from it. As the Model Health Inquiry, notes in its interim report: ‘News organisations were increasingly dedicating their coverage to stories and headlines about the weight of models and the specialist writers have found it hard to focus on the outfits worn by over thin models.’ One fashion editor is quoted as saying: ‘I have sat through innumerable shows where I have been unable to take in the clothes through shock at the emaciated frames of models.’
But even critical coverage of celebrities who are deemed to be ‘too thin’, can make matters worse for eating disorder sufferers, according to Ringwood. Low self esteem is a recognised factor in eating disorders - sufferers don’t think they are worthy of taking up any space in the world and shrink accordingly. Seeing bodies which look similar to theirs being pilloried and described as revolting reinforces their own lack of self worth, she says.
Even critical coverage of celebrities
who are deemed to be ‘too thin’,
can make matters worse
for eating disorder sufferers She believes what’s needed is for the media and the fashion industry to present a more diverse mix of body types as beautiful and acceptable - preferably without any supposed bulges or cellulite being ringed in red. Such a change wouldn’t be a total solution by any means, but it would help, she says. ‘We can’t change brain chemistry and we can’t protect young women from all forms of trauma. Of all the factors involved in eating disorders, images in the media is the one area we can change.’
(1) Girlguiding UK, Girls Shout Out!, March 2007
(2) Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, Young People’s Health in Context, June 2004
(3) Model Health Inquiry, September 2007
(4) B-eat, ‘Time to Tell’, February 2006
(5) Int J Eat Disord 2002; 31(1): 1-16, Groesz et, ‘The effect of experimental presentation of this media images on body satisfaction.’
8.Sex, drugs and alcohol If it’s OK for Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse, why not me? Pregnancy rates among under 16s are on the rise; and girls from deprived homes are the most likely to fall pregnant, and more likely than girls from richer backgrounds to see the pregnancy through.
Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rates in Western Europe - twice as high as Germany, three times a high as France and six times as high as The Netherlands(1).
The number of girls under 16 - the legal age of consent - getting pregnant went up by 4% from 7,615 in 2004 to 7,917 in 2005.
Rates for older teenagers, however, remain stable, 42,198 in 2004 and 42,187 in 2005.
Teenagers from deprived
areas are four times as likely
to fall pregnant than those
living in better off areas Teenagers from deprived areas are four times as likely to fall pregnant than those living in better off areas - and more likely to go on to have the baby, rather than abort.
For every 1,000 teenagers in poorer areas, 80 will become pregnant, compared with 16 in richer ones. Among under 16s, the gap between conception rates for rich and poor girls is even higher.
Most teenagers from better off areas who fall pregnant will abort (71%); only a minority from poorer homes will terminate their pregnancy (39%). Among under 16s, more than three-quarters (77%) from richer areas will terminate, compared with half of those from poorer homes.
Teenage mothers are invariably condemned by the media for being feckless and irresponsible. However, a government advisory body on sexual health says the media is in part to blame(2). The climate where young girls end up having sex is fuelled by extensive and constant coverage of celebrity behaviour.
‘The positive media coverage of “celebrity” behaviour involving sex, drugs and alcohol acts as an encouragement to young people,’ it says in a report into the links between alcohol, drugs and sex.
The more likely young girls
are to drink or use drugs,
the more likely they are to
have unprotected sex
One type of risky behaviour often leads to another - the more likely young girls are to drink or use drugs, the more likely they are to have unprotected sex. You can’t tackle one without the others, it says.
According to one public health expert(3):
* 40% of sexually active 13- to 14-year olds were drunk or stoned when they lost their virginity;
* 11% of 15- to 16-year-olds had sex they subsequently regretted after drinking alcohol;
* Young people are three times as likely to have unprotected sex when they are drunk than when sober.
40% of sexually active
13- to 14-year olds were
drunk or stoned when they
lost their virginity Any messages about responsible behaviour are drowned out by the sheer volume of coverage given to celebrities behaving badly.
‘The irony is that endorsement of this [risky] behaviour - whether by explicit or subliminal advertising and marketing or coverage of “celebrity” behaviour - is prevalent while information and educational campaigns warning of the risks and harm are restricted in their ability to carry unequivocal images. For example, there are restrictions on advertising condoms pre-watershed, and on showing a picture of a condom out of its wrapper. Our young people are therefore receiving distorted messages.’
Whether media coverage of drunken celebrities is to blame or not, drinking among teenage girls is on the rise, while boys are drinking less.
Girls are now bigger binge drinkers than boys, and the numbers of them bingeing are growing.
Girls are now bigger binge
drinkers than boys, and
the numbers of them
bingeing are growing
In a study of 16-year-olds, 29% of girls had been binge drinking three times or more in the last month, up from 27% when the study was conducted four years earlier(4). The number of boys bingeing fell from a third to just over a quarter (26%), during the same period.
Drunkenness rates among 16-year-old boys are falling, while the number of girls remains static. A third of boys said they had been drunk 20 times or more in their lives in 1999 but this had fallen to 27% by 2003. Rates for girls stayed unchanged, at 27%.
(1) Office for National Statistics
(2) Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health & HIV, Sex, Drugs, Alcohol & Young People, June 2007
(3) Prof Mark Bellis, Head of Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University
(4) European School Survey Project of Alcohol and Other Drugs, Alcohol and Other Drug Use Among Students in 35 European Countries, 2003
9. Educational Achievement Girls outperform boys at just about every stage of their educational careers Pictures in newspapers of young women beaming as they show off their exam results are a regular summer fixture. We’re all familiar with the fact that girls consistently do better than boys in their A-level exams and GCSEs.
In 2007, they did 8% better than boys in gaining A-level grade C and above (1). And that’s despite the fact that many more girls than boys sit A-levels in the first place, 436,845 girls compared with 368,812 boys.
Girls do even better with their GCSE results - outperforming boys by 12% in GCSE grade C or above in 2007(2). Although here, the numbers of boys and girls taking GCSEs are more comparable, 2,951,877 girls; to 2,875,442 boys
What may be less well known is that girls outperform boys right from the outset of their school careers and beyond.
According to the government’s Focus on Gender 2006(3) (the last year for which this analysis is available), girl pupils consistently outscored boys from Key Stage 1 (5 to 7 years) all the way through to Key Stage 4 (14 to 16 year old), although the difference was less marked in mathematics and science than in English.
Girl pupils consistently
outscored boys from
Key Stage 1 (5 to 7 years)
all the way through to
Key Stage 4 (14 to 16 years) The only area where boys are able to match girls is in maths. In 2005, for Key Stage 2 (7 to 11 years old), boys performed as well as girls in maths in teacher assessments and slightly better in the test component.
Girls also greatly outnumber in the league table of the brightest pupils at mainstream schools in England, released in June 2007(4). In the first analysis of its kind, the Department for Education & Skills looked at the top 10% of pupils from the end of primary school (Key Stage 2), through to age 16 (Key Stage 4). The report showed that girls were only marginally ahead at 11 - making up 52% of the brightest pupils. But by 16, they accounted for 60% of the high attainers. There was some variation between individual subjects: for example, girls accounted for 65% of the brightest pupils in English; boys did better than girls at maths at age 11, 14, and 16.
The numbers of boys and girls gaining two or more A-levels has increased over recent years. However, for girls, the size of increase is notably higher. Between 1990/91 and 2004/05, the proportion of young women getting two A-levels more than doubled, from 20% to 45%(3). Over the same period, the proportion of young men getting two A-levels rose from 18% to 35%.
Between 1990/91 and
2004/05, the proportion
of young women
getting 2 A-levels
more than doubled,
from 20% to 45%
In 2003/04, at A-level, young women outperformed young men in all subjects - with the exception of French and Spanish.
It’s a similar picture with vocational qualifications. In 2004/05, more women than men were awarded NVQs (National Vocational Qualifications/Scottish Vocational Qualifications) at all levels(3). This was most noticeable at level 3 (generally the highest level taken by 14-19 year olds), where two-thirds of NVQs/SVQs were awarded to women. Of over half a million NVQs/SVQs awarded, 56% were to women, with 44% to men.
At university level, the numbers of males and females getting first-class degrees are equal (11% and 10%, respectively), but more women get upper second degrees, 46%, compared with 39% of men.
One explanation for girls’ greater educational success may lie in the fact that throughout their school careers they consistently spend longer doing homework than their male counterparts(5). The older the pupils, the greater the gap between the amount of homework girls are doing and the amount done by boys. At age 11, 10% of girls and 6.3% of boys are doing three or more hours homework a night. By age, 15 - the crucial exam years - nearly a quarter of girls (24.8%) are doing this amount of homestudying each evening, more than double the proportion of boys (12.1%).
Of over half a million
NVQs awarded, 56% were to women,
with 44% to men However, as we report more fully in Section 10 (Role models and ambitions), there is evidence that young women’s career ambitions narrow as they get older. According to a study of 3,000 young women(6), doing well at school or university becomes less important with age. It is ‘very important’ to 82% of 10- to 15-year-olds, but only to 74% of 16- to 25-year-olds.
Similarly success at work is ‘very important’ to nearly three-quarters (74%) of 10- to 15-year olds, but to only 61% of those who are actually about to embark on a career, 16- to 25-year-olds.
(1) Joint Council for Qualifications, National Provisional GCE A-Level Results, June 2007
(2) Joint Council for Qualifications, National Provisional GCSE Results, June 2007
(3) National Statistics; Focus on Gender, Education, October 2006
(4)Dept for Education & Skills, Statistics of Education, The Characteristics of High Attainers, June 2007
(5) Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, Young People’s Health in Context, June 2004
(6) Girlguiding UK, Girls Shout Out!, March 2007
10.Role models and ambitions Just because they’re bad role models, doesn’t mean we don’t want to be like them Young girls may be sceptical - even hostile - towards some of the media, but their ambitions and outlook are certainly shaped by it.
Some 40% of 7- to 10-year-olds questioned in a survey of 3,000 young females(1) want to be ‘famous’. Some 41% of 7- to 10- year olds, and 14% of 16- to 25-year olds, want to be TV presenters; 35% of 10- to 14-year-olds, and around 4% of 16- to 25-year olds, want to be models and popstars.
Nearly half (48%) of 10- to 15-year olds and one in 10 16- to 25-year olds want to appear on a reality TV programme.
Half of 10- to 15-year olds
and one in 10
16- to 25-year olds want to appear
on a reality TV programme
Their most influential role models are creatures almost entirely of the media’s creation: Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss, according to one survey of over 3,000 young women(1). However, although the survey respondents cited Beckham and Moss as the most influential, only a fraction, 5% and 2%, respectively, thought they were positive role models.
In another study(2), 20% of the 1,000 13- to18-year olds questioned cited skinny models (along with celebrities and popstars) as bad role models - which puts them on a par with Pete Doherty, who was also named by 20% of respondents as setting a bad example. Next in line, named by 6% as a bad role model for young people, was former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Young women narrow -
rather than expand -
their career ambitions
as they get older Interestingly, it seems young women narrow - rather than expand - their career ambitions as they get older.
Some 90% of 10- to 15-year-olds believe women are capable of doing any job they choose; whereas only 81% of older respondents, 16- to 25-year olds, believe they can.
Doing well in a career becomes relatively less important and getting married becomes relatively more important as girls get older. Success at work is ‘very important’ to nearly three-quarters (74%) of 10- to 15-year olds, but to only 61% of those who are actually about to embark on a career, the 16- to 25-year-olds.
48% of 16- to 25-year olds
say finding a husband
is very important
Marriage is ‘very important’ to 38% of the younger girls, whereas nearly half (48%) of the older group say finding a husband is very important.
Similarly, doing well at school or university becomes less important with age. It is ‘very important’ to 82% of 10- to 15-year-olds, and 74% of 16- to 25-year-olds.
(1) Girlguiding UK, Girls Shout Out!, March 2007
(2) Nfp Synergy/Scouts, Typical Young People, January 2007
11.What is Women in Journalism?
Women in Journalism was founded in 1995 as a networking, campaigning, training and social organisation for women journalists who work across all the written and new media. We have over 530 members, including many of the most senior women in the industry. Unlike other media organisations, we welcome both magazine and newspaper journalists, attracting both staff and freelancers, prominent editors and more junior writers. We currently have a 55/ 45 split between freelance and staff members.
The sharing of experience and knowledge is one of the fundamental aims of the organisation. WIJ seminars are unique in being able to draw on the expertise of so many leading journalists and editors from a wide range of newspapers and magazines, all of whom recognise the value of encouraging talented women. We cover subjects close to every journalist's heart. Leading journalists, authors and social commentators usually make up the panel.
We run a programme of six seminars each year which are attended by 70 to 100 writers. Typical or regular seminars include:
* Writing that book (with major UK publishers and agents);
* The art of the interview, where some of the most famous interviewers in the national press have shared the tricks of their trade.
* From sub-editor to editor
* The great features debate
* ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? Career development for journalists.
*"Use it or lose it’’, based around WIJ research into ageism
We regularly conduct research on subjects close to our members’ hearts, and our findings generally attract widespread media coverage. Recent research papers have included: Chaps of both sexes; The hidden sex; Women in the news; The cheaper sex.
WIJ and government
We have also run joint seminars with the Cabinet Office, to encourage women to apply for public appointments, and we regularly hold networking events at the party conferences.
At the Labour party conference in autumn 2005 we hosted a debate on ‘Working Mothers: What do they really want?’
In 2006, we held a discussion breakfast: “Winning Women: the rising force in politics,” with Harriet Harman MP, who is now Labour deputy leader.
Our website is being relaunched to ensure it remains the essential link to the Women in Journalism community: it's the medium through which we communicate with our members (through newsletters, bulletin boards, jobs vacancies, events listings); and it is also our shop window to the wider world.
Women in Journalism’s founders’ lunch
Women in Journalism’s founders’ lunch is an occasional “big name” event specifically designed for those women who supported the organisation when it began 11 years ago, plus specially invited guests from the media.
Previous speakers have included US Vogue’s ultra-chic editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the Daily Mail’s best-known columnist, the late Lynda Lee Potter, and CNN’s redoubtable foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist who floors with almost every punch, spoke at the fourth WiJ founders’ lunch in spring 2006 with an audience of women from the highest levels in publishing.
Wij parties We hold parties twice a year, in summer and at Christmas, for our members, plus specially invited guests, including leading figures from the publishing world. These events are an ideal opportunity for women journalists to network and share experiences.