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We've always thought of childhood as a safe, happy time. But new research suggests that girls as young as seven-years-old are becoming obsessed with physical perfection. Why is that, and what can be done to protect our daughters?

Our little girls are in crisis.

A recent (2016) study by Girlguiding UK revealed that 36% of girls age seven- to ten-years-old believe how they look is most important, valued above brains or personality.

23% of girls this age feel that they have to be perfect, with 15% of girls aged seven- to ten-years old feeling embarrassed by their appearance most or all of the time. 69% of girls, as young as seven, feel that they're not good enough.

These are heart-breaking statistics.

But what do they mean?

What does perfection mean to a seven year old girl?

17% of seven- to ten-year-old girls think they need to lose weight most of the time, and 23% think they need to lose weight sometimes. With girls aged eleven- to sixteen-years, the figure rises to 51% of girls thinking they're overweight most of the time.

15% of seven- to ten-year-old girls think they need to be prettier most of the time, and 23% think they're not pretty enough sometimes. 54% of girls aged eleven- to sixteen-years think they're not pretty enough most of the time.

According to our daughters:

- 36% of girls aged seven- to ten-years agree that how they look is the most important thing about them. 53% of girls aged eleven to 21 agree.

- 35% of girls aged seven- to ten-years agree that women are judged on appearance rather than ability. 75% of girls aged eleven to 21 agree.

- 42% of girls aged eleven to 21 years agree that a woman has to be pretty to be successful.

So, there we have it. A perfect girl, in the eyes of our children, is pretty and thin.

But Does it Really Matter?

It does.

Young girls are less happy with their appearance than ever before.

When Girlguiding UK did their last study, in 2011, it found that 73% of girls age seven to 21 were happy overall with how they look. Now, that figure has dropped to 61%. These figures coincide with official figures, revealing that 200 British children aged five to nine have been hospitalised for Anorexia Nervosa. Ofsted also shows that one-third of ten-year-old girls and 22% of ten-year-old boys are on an official diet.

These figures are significant because they are indicative of low-self-esteem, a key cause of depression. An NHS study recently showed that young women aged 16 to 24 years old are at the highest risk of anxiety and depression. The Girlguiding UK study showed that 28% of girls aged seven to ten, and 48% of girls aged eleven to sixteen already feel anxious often.

Seven-year-old girls no longer want to climb trees or ride ponies. Instead, in a reflection of their worryingly adult preoccupations, their favourite game is to try make-up looks and rate each other on who is "hottest".

Similarly, as Nicky Hutchinson and Chris Calland found out, girls of nine, when asked what they want to be when they grow-up, reply - not with a profession - but "skinny" or "hot".

Even nursery age children, as young as four, are saying that they "can't wear leggings". When asked why, they say their legs are too fat.

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