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Beauty Standards for Young Girls & the Effects on their Self-Esteem as they Age

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Beauty Standards for Young Girls & the Effects on their Self-Esteem as they Age

Multimedia sources have always been a leading cause of negative and limiting images of beauty, especially for women. With the rise of technology and social media, those messages impact younger and younger girls today. This brings us to wonder, are there any long-term effects on young girls as they face pressures to conform to societal beauty standards? If so, how does this impact a girl’s self-esteem later in life, particularly in her teens?

We are going to examine three different studies hosted by various online publications, involving young girls and teens and their perceptions of beauty and self-esteem. Then, we will compare the younger girls’ responses (ages 5-10) to what the older girls (ages 11 and up) had to say.

The Confidence Project by SheKnows.com, follows the lives of 25 girls for five years (2014-2019). The youngest group of girls initially began the study at age 9. The study documents the girls’ opinions on topics such as body image, social media, and confidence and how their statements change over time.

Organized by Allure Magazine, this study focuses on girls between the ages of 5-18 years old. It explores what the girls had to say about beauty ideals, body image, and self-love.

Refinery29 surveys women throughout the lifespan, covering 8 generations as they talk about their bodies.

The Confidence Project with SheKnows.com

She Knows, a lifestyle blog that features a segment on parenting, did a study called The Confidence Project on a group of girl pre-teens and teens for five years (2014 to 2019). The girls were interviewed periodically on topics such as body image, social media, and confidence. Here are some findings from the study:

Many of the girls said that their confidence declined throughout the five years they were a part of the study. Initially seeing themselves as confident and carefree butbecoming more self-conscious as they got older. This was mostly caused by growing pressures to look or perform a certain way from peers and parents.

Most of the girls spoke being made fun of for their weight and overall appearance from male peers and grown men.

One girl mentions getting contradictory comments from others about her weight for being both “too fat and too skinny”.

Many of the girls use social media to entertain themselves and to stay in connection with friends and peers, leading to negative feelings about their own self-image.

A few girls admitted to making certain clothing choices to gain attention from the opposite sex.

According to the data above, as girls get older, their perception of their own beauty and self-esteem drops. As girls age, awareness of societal expectations and increasing pressures to fit a certain mold leads to more anxiety and dissatisfaction within themselves. These pressures do not only come from media messages defining beauty, but from peers, parents, and other adults.

If we want our girls to realize their true beauty, we have to take an active role in helping her discover it. We need to emphasize the significance of what makes her unique. Also, we need to show her how to be confident and how to handle criticism without taking it personally.

Children Talk Beauty with Allure Magazine

In 2018, Allure Magazine interviewed several young girls ranging between the ages of 5-18 years old and asked them about their thoughts on beauty ideals, body image, and self-love. A series of three videos between 4 and 6 minutes long are posted on Allure’s youtube page covering three different themes: what beauty means to them, body image, and hair and self-esteem. An additional video, found on the Allure website, shows the same girls praising their Mothers and how much they look up to them.

Here are the biggest takeaways from each video:

Video #1: What Beauty Means to Them -

The younger girls (ages 5-11) made comments about beauty seen in external things, such as nature, their parents, and other people. However, the older girls’ (ages 12-18) remarks were focused on beauty and how it relates to their physical appearance.

The older girls spoke more about struggles they’ve faced with accepting their own beauty, but ultimately saying something positive about themselves.

Video #2: Body Image -

The little girls had only positive things to say about their body, such as having strong legs and arms. Not really focusing on what they look like or any feelings associated with appearances.

As the girls got older, they spoke more candidly about their body insecurities and others’ comments criticizing their appearance.

The older teens later mentioned physical attributes that they like about themselves, such as their eyes or skin tone.

Video #3: Hair and Self-Esteem:

Many of the girls mention the association between straight hair being the beauty standard and how damaging that can be to hair over time.

Some of the girls spoke about enjoying their curls more after seeing other people embrace natural hair.

A desire for broader representation and diversity in hair types is expressed.

Once again, the younger girls are focused less on insecurities revolved around physical appearance and are generally content about who they are. The older the girls get, the more self-conscious they seem to be about physical appearances and societal pressures around fitting certain stereotypes of beauty. However, the middle age range of girls (ages 11-14) also demonstrate discontent about how they feel about themselves.

We have to communicate with our girls about what real beauty is, starting from a young age but especially as she gets older. She needs to know that even though society’s standard of beauty is extremely limiting and near impossible to achieve, that in reality there are so many different types of beauty and they are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone who is tall, blonde, and skinny is beautiful doesn’t mean that someone else who is short, brunette, and plus sized is not also beautiful. Both girls are beautiful, as well as so many other varieties of young women!

Multiple Generations Talk About Their Bodies with Refinery29

Refinery29 gathered 3 females per generation representing the perspectives of elementary, middle school, high school, college, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, and senior women. These ladies each took turns answering the question “When are you the most comfortable in your own skin?” For the purposes of this article, we will focus exclusively on the comments made by the elementary, middle school, and high school girls interviewed.

Below are some notable comments the girls made:

Loving Yourself Is...

“Being comfortable in your own body” (high school)

” Being confident in who you are as a person” (middle school)

“Not thinking of yourself as ugly, whether you are big or small” (elementary)

“Knowing who you are when you’re older instead of listening to others to tell you who you are and what to do” (middle school)

When You Feel Best About Yourself…

“When I’m shopping, and I look good, so I feel good” (middle school)

A Celebrity They Look Up To…

Taylor Swift was the one celebrity mentioned by elementary, middle school, and high school girls because she is “cool and down to earth”.

Unlike the previous studies, these conversations are steered towards positivity and don't address any negative body image issues or pressures pertaining to impossible beauty standards. Even though the study covers eight different generations and their views on beauty and self-love, the amount of information provided is relatively limited. Refinery29 surveys women annually on their thoughts about body image, but the information on how kids feel is minimal.

However, showing girls speaking positively about their bodies and views on self-love is a good thing. When girls witness their peers speaking in such a way, it encourages them to do the same for themselves. If only media publications wouldfocus on building up the self-esteem of girls, rather than capitalizing on their insecurities the world would be a better place. Although, every baby step towards progress counts.

As we wrap up today’s discussion, let's review our findings. In 2 out of 3 of the studies mentioned above, younger girls (ages 5-10) demonstrated more confidence and focused less on their own physical appearance when compared to older girls (ages 11 and up). This is important to know so that we not only educate and uplift younger girls about what true beauty is, but that we continue to remind our older girls of their value and worth. In fact, it is vital that we encourage open dialogue with our teens about beauty and any self-esteem issues that they may be facing.

Another important discovery from these case studies is the need for more diversity and representation in the media. Girls need to be shown that there is more than one type of beautiful woman and girl that exists. Beauty is not mutually exclusive. All types of girls are beautiful, just like all colors of the rainbow are beautiful. Beauty is so much more complex than simply one’s physical appearance. All the quirks and imperfections a girl has are what make her rare and unique!

Reference Materials:

3.) Refinery 29: Females of All Ages Talk About Their Body youtube video:

https://youtu.be/MuloXyMixq0

Accompanying Infographic available at:


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