Girls in Ireland’s body-esteem falls way below global averages: Here’s what we can do about it
‘There is so much pressure on my generation to be perfect, not only from outside influences but from each other too.’ – Dove Self-Esteem Project Ambassador Ali Keating, (15).
We’ve all had that moment. You’re getting ready to go out somewhere and your hair won’t cooperate, your body looks weird in this outfit and your makeup doesn’t look at all like the tutorial promised it would. You’re frustrated, feel rushed and have that sinking feeling in your stomach as you think – I don’t look good.
Would this feeling stop you from leaving the house?
According to recent in-depth research from Dove of girls aged 10-17, almost two thirds (63%) of girls in Ireland reported not attending a school related event because of the way they felt about their appearance.
We all have our insecure days. We won’t always be feeling our best selves, even as women with more experience and confidence than our adolescent counterparts. We know our value lies not just in our appearance – though we like to look and feel good too – but in our knowledge, our confidence and our abilities. But for young girls in Ireland, research shows that their lack of body-esteem is stopping them from having experiences, building their confidence, and gaining skills.
It’s no secret that young girls are growing up in a media saturated environment and that it’s having a profound effect. Most of us can see past the Instagram filters and curated feeds, but young teenage girls don’t yet have the life experience to be able to make that differentiation. As a result, 50% of girls in Ireland reported that they feel worse about themselves when they look at beautiful girls or women in magazines.
In fact, girls in Ireland are well above the global average in terms of low body-esteem, with 87% claiming to feel unhappy with how they look.
And we can look around to blame the media and the unrealistic body standards, but the reality is that this is a social crisis that needs to be addressed. This is not just a case of the awkward teenage years and the natural insecurity that comes with a changing body. This low body-esteem is affecting our young girls’ education, health, and life goals. Insecurity about their appearance hinders 51% of girls’ educational goals and 62% of girls in Ireland believe that for them to do well in life, they need to look a certain way, with this pressure to look good leading to feelings of stress and unhappiness.
This experience of crippling insecurity is stopping them from having the experiences and education and skill-building opportunities that allows them to find value outside of their image, creating a vicious cycle that will trap them well into womanhood. Dove’s research found that their insecurity does not lessen with time, as 85% of women still feel that same pressure girls associate with being beautiful.
But what is promising, amongst these disheartening statistics is that 72% of girls in Ireland say they are proud to be a girl, 85% of them believe they have several skills talents and qualities, and 67% wish school would teach them how to feel good in their own bodies. So even if the awareness that their happiness can lie outside of how they look isn’t as strong as we’d like to see, there is desire to learn more about embracing themselves and a real opportunity to build confidence from a young age by ensuring that girls have access to the right tools to help them deal with the pressures they face every day.
But how do you teach self-esteem? This isn’t a maths class, where if you go over it enough, it will eventually click. Self-esteem is built up over time and is constantly under attack from outside sources, making it difficult to learn and even harder to keep once absorbed. Dove has identified this social crisis for girls in Ireland through its research, revealing the shocking statistic that 84% of girls in Ireland feel there is too much importance placed on beauty in making them happy. In response, they have launched The Dove Self-Esteem Project in Ireland for the first time, with the aim of helping young girls reach their full potential by disarming beauty ideals and providing supportive resources to help foster positive body image and self-esteem from an early age.
As the biggest provider of self-esteem education in the world, Dove believes that no young person should be held back from reaching their full potential. The Dove Self-Esteem Project aims to reach the lives of a 1/3 of all 11–14-year-olds in Ireland by the end of 2021 through a free programme  of evidence-based resources that are available for download across Ireland. The Dove Self-Esteem Project resources include activity guides and website articles to help parents and teachers tackle tough topics like bullying and poor body image; confidence building workshops for classrooms and educational activities for mentors and youth leaders.
This carefully curated programme is the first step in breaking the cycle that has trapped young people in Ireland. One of the more comprehensive programmes around body-esteem, the Dove Self-Esteem Project speaks frankly and realistically to the young person’s experience. It has its roots in answers provided by teenagers going through exactly what the programme’s recipients are going through and so the course speaks to young people at their level without talking down to them, making it accessible and realistic.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project has different variations, for teachers, parents, mentors and youth leaders tailoring its lessons to your situation. It includes the ‘Confident Me’ course, which features sessions that deal with unrealistic appearances ideals, the impact of social media, celebrity culture and advertising, how to reduce appearance-focused conversations and comparisons and body activism and positive behaviour change.
The five modules include:
  • Appearance Ideals
  • Media Messages
  • Confront Comparisons
  • Banish Body Talk
  • Be the Change
Each module contains a teacher guide, student presentation, and student activity sheets. If you don’t have time to run five sessions, teachers can try the single session resource that covers the topics in less depth.
The ‘Confident Me’ mini sessions are designed for home learning, given the world that we currently live in. They emphasise body confidence and are compact versions of the Confident Me resources. Packed full of bitesize activities, these mini lessons will teach young people to:
  • Understand the concept of appearance ideals
  • Analyse the influences that create pressure to achieve appearance ideals
  • Build media literacy skills
  • Challenge appearance ideals
The ‘Uniquely Me’ programme is a parent resource, which is available to download for teachers to share with parents, giving them tools to teach their children about self-esteem at home.
Made up of a series of articles covering key topics that affect self-esteem, each article starts out with an introduction to a theme and why it is relevant. Then, to help guide parents in making practical changes, Dove has put together an action checklist full of body confidence-boosting ideas from the Dove self-esteem experts. Finally, the added “Let’s Get Started” section, gives parents some ways to start the conversation today.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project, available here is the first essential step in breaking the cycle, arming the next generation with the tools they need to grow up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look. The project will help this generation reach their full potential by disarming toxic beauty ideals.
Yvonne Connolly and daughter Ali have partnered with Dove to launch the Dove Self- Esteem Project in Ireland. Yvonne said: “As a mother of two daughters, I can see first-hand how a lack of confidence can affect young girls in all aspects of their lives. I am thrilled to be working with Dove on the Dove Self-Esteem Project – something that is purposeful and important. I had an accident in 2019 that badly affected my self-esteem, so this is an issue that is close to my heart. I was also shocked when I first read the stats and found it especially sad to see how it all started at such a young age. This is why I think the Dove Self-Esteem Project is a fantastic initiative that can really help our girls grow into confident young women and make a change in how they view themselves and their peers”.
Yvonne’s 15-year-old daughter Ali added: “I really feel that if I had had access to the tools and resources the Dove Self-Esteem Project is providing from a young age it would have helped me to feel more confident in who I was. It is important because there is so much pressure on my generation to be perfect, not only from outside influences but from each other too. We need to support each other so we can grow into the confident women we want to be.”
Resources are now available for teachers, parents, mentors, and youth leaders across Ireland. To gain access to the tools or to register your school, check out our online learning hub on Dove’s Self Esteem Programme page. Together with the #DoveSelfEsteemProject, we can break the cycle.
(Research reference: Research conducted by Edelman Data & Intelligence, a global, multidisciplinary research, analytics and data consultancy in January and February 2021 with 202 girls in Ireland aged 10-17.)
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Dove has a long-standing commitment to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety. The Dove Self-Esteem Project (2004), helps the next generation develop a positive relationship with the way they look so they are not held back by appearance-related concerns and anxiety and can realise their full potential.



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