by Lesley Salem, Senior Research Director
In honour of International Women’s Day, we want to address the issues facing our
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 selfimage,
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 and ugliness. 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 out
of kilter with 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 (i.e. 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. Whilst various beauty and personal care brands have
begun to challenge the status quo, teens are being overlooked. The time is ripe to
celebrate real beauty that emphasises what’s inside and allows girls to be proud of
their quirks and uniquely defining beauty marks. Girls growing up today truly believe
that the world is a better place with diversity and as the undercurrent of discontent
grows, brands need to be seen as offering content and messaging that’s more
representative if they are to establish affinity and loyalty for our next generation of
Our full report – Beauty and the Beast – will be available at the end of March
2018. Contact Lesley Salem, head of Razor Kids at [email protected]
for further details.