The Status of Young Women in Scotland: Body Image

The Young Women's Movement in Scotland have written for us about their Status of Young Women in Scotland research on body image.

This year marks the fourth edition of our Status of Young Women in Scotland (SYWS) research. SYWS is an opportunity for us to pass the mic to 16 to 30 year-old women living in Scotland and share their opinions or voice their concerns on a topic we’ve identified as important to young women across a number of intersecting identities.

In its first iteration in 2015, the SYWS offered young women the chance to consider the ways in which gender affects their lives1.  ‘Hidden Conversations' was the focus of the SYWS report in 2016 - shining a light on issues experienced by groups of young women in Scotland whose voices are so often unheard2, and 2018 saw us highlighting the barriers that young women face in politics, representation and activism3 in Scotland. The results of our research prove the need for our political leadership programme, Young Women Lead. Last year, the programme’s Participants ran a study, much like the Scottish Government would do, on the barriers to sport and physical activity faced by young women across Scotland. An overwhelming number of responses made reference to body image.

We wanted to follow up on that response to understand just how big an issue body image is for young women across the country, and so it became the focus of our research for autumn-winter 2019. We interviewed and surveyed 380 women around Scotland to understand exactly what they thought about body image – especially their relationships with their own bodies and the influencing factors on that.

Body image

In May, we published the results of that research and it highlighted a number of important issues young women in Scotland are concerned about in relation to body image4. The young women shared that negative body image had an impact on the following

  • Health
  • Relationships
  • types of activities young women engage in
  • opportunities they can access
  • their lifestyle choices
  • the role of social media in shaping negative and positive body image
  • the role of influencers, families, friends, partners
  • the beauty ideal and chasing it through weight loss
  • cosmetic treatments, enhancements and body modifications

 

"When I was 10. I went on my first diet" #SYWS19

The findings of the report were, in parts, heart-breaking. 80% of survey respondents felt that their body image had stopped them from doing something or negatively impacted their confidence and limited their life choices. Almost half (47%) of respondents told us that their body image had negative social implications.

"if you say that you're happy in your own body, then that's more shocking, imagine being that full of yourself." The Young Women's Movement #SYWS19

Representation proved a big issue for young women, with 48% of respondents feeling they weren’t represented in society – through the media or those with higher visibility.

"48% said they felt their body wasn't represented in society" #SYWS19

Next steps

We created a manifesto off the back of the report’s results, highlighting the areas we could tackle with campaigning. Our two campaigns, #WaitingForChangeScot and #EatYourWords aim to tackle fatphobia, negative body image and media pressures that young women and girls across Scotland are continually facing.

#EatYourWords launched in July with submissions from women and girls across the country contributing to the conversation. Our challenge – flip the script on body image. We invited women and girls to reflect on the language we use to talk about our bodies and the impact it has both on ourselves and those around us.

We are in the middle of the campaign now, sharing artwork, poetry, workshops and blog posts on a range of issues related to body image and the language we use to talk about ourselves. It has been an incredibly powerful campaign so far and we’re hugely encouraged by the positive response it has seen. We would love for you to join this conversation.

#EatYourWords is so much more than a hashtag. It's a space for women and girls in Scotland to think about how language has affected our self-image. It’s a catalyst for reclaiming the words we use to talk about our bodies. It’s a starting point for rebuilding a relationship with yourself which was broken down by a society that relishes in insults to keep us from growing too aware of our own power.

You can watch our #AyeFeel Like Talking...body image conversation with the Young Women's Movement on YouTube or take a look at our short IGTV where some of the Young Women's Movement team and Katie from #YSHealth share their top tips

Bibliography

1 Status of Young Women in Scotland 2015 - https://www.ywcascotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Status-of-Young-Women-In-Scotland.pdf

2 Status of Young Women in Scotland 2016 - https://www.ywcascotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/SYWS-2016.pdf

3 Status of Young Women in Scotland 2018 – https://www.ywcascotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/SYWS18.pdf

4 Status of Young Women in Scotland 2019 - https://www.ywcascotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/SYWS19_digital_high-1.pdf