A generation of adolescent girls will fail to fulfil their professional potential because they are suffering from low self-esteem about their appearance, it was claimed yesterday.
One in four females aged between 11 and 17 are weighed down by pressure to conform to an 'ideal notion' of how they should look, a survey suggests.
The study concludes that the low self-esteem will have a disastrous effect on their career prospects.
Almost half of the girls described themselves as 'average' and 'ordinary' with a further 10 per cent feeling 'plain', 'unattractive' and 'ugly', according to the research
The widespread lack of physical confidence has led to girls spending an average of 42 minutes a day working on their appearance, choosing outfits and applying make-up – almost as much time as they spend doing homework.
More than half of the girls studied said they would be happier if they were more physically attractive.
The results have been interpreted to suggest that the lack of confidence among young women will mean thousands fail to achieve their professional potential.
It is claimed Britain could lose some 319,000 future businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 women MPs by 2050 unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities.
The predictions are based on face-to-face interviews with 500 girls between 11 and 17 from across Britain, the results of which were used to forecast future employment.
Almost half of the girls described themselves as 'average' and 'ordinary' with a further 10 per cent feeling 'plain', 'unattractive' and 'ugly', according to the research, which was commissioned by Dove.
The research showed girls spend an average of 42 minutes a day working on their appearance, choosing outfits and applying make-up
The survey found that they spend 23 minutes a day applying make-up or beauty treatments and 19 minutes a day choosing what to wear.
By contrast, time spent on homework averages only slightly higher, at 52 minutes a day.
Five per cent of girls say they hate the way they look, and a further 20 per cent say that 'there is a lot I would change'. Negative comments about their appearance from other girls were one of the biggest factors making girls feel less confident, the survey found.
And low self-esteem damages their prospects, with only one in three confident that she will have a successful career.
Market research specialist The Future Foundation used the interview results to make a series of predictions relating to future career paths. Using complex statistical analysis, they said that low self-esteem currently felt by young girls will reduce the likelihood of them following aspirational career paths in politics, business and sport.
William Nelson, director of research at The Future Foundation, said: 'Even among high-achieving girls, those with lower self-esteem were significantly less likely to be aiming for "high-profile" careers in future.'
He added: 'In every profession we looked at, we predict decent growth in the presence of women in coming decades – but numbers of women will not grow as strongly as they could if lowered self-esteem among girls and young women were to be addressed.'
Penny Newman, chief executive of Platform 51, formerly the YWCA, added: 'Every day we work with girls and women who suffer from low self-esteem.
'Whether it presents as a lack of confidence about their ability, their body or their worth, these deep-seated anxieties really hold girls back from achieving their potential.'
Dove has launched its Dove Self-Esteem Programme to try to change the way young girls perceive and embrace beauty.
The company aims to contact young people through self-esteem workshops, which will be held in schools all over the country.
Dove spokesman Ali Fisher said: 'We are passionate about our social mission and want to continue to help young girls and women develop a positive relationship with their bodies.'
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