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‘Am I Bovvered?...’

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

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

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
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 œremedial 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

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. 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?. 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

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’ is exaggerated.

Are girls becoming more like boys? 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.

Despite their worries about being fat, girls are more reluctant to
take up exercise, 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. 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. 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. 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).

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. 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.

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

Two-thirds of 16- to 25-year-olds say they are not treated with

respect by boys their own age or by politicians. Nearly three-
quarters say they are not treated with respect by the media (73%)
or the fashion industry (71%), either.
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%).

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 to distrust the media,
also appear to believe its stereotyping - even when those
stereotypes 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.

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.

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. 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..

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. Any messages about responsible behaviour are drowned out
by the sheer volume of coverage given to celebrities behaving

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. 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%.
SOURCES (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 Focus on Gender
2006 (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 home studying 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.
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 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. 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.