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Wednesday, October 7, 1998 Published at 01:14 GMT 02:14 UK


Pressure to be perfect

Women have a distorted perception of what is a healthy weight

A fifth of women say they are on a diet all or most of the time and blame an intolerable pressure to have perfect bodies, according to a new survey.

The research findings show that many young women are so concerned about their appearance that they will not go naked in front of their partners, refuse to leave the house, and indulge in damaging eating binges.

The study suggests social and peer group pressure has given women a distorted perception of what is a healthy weight, and the belief that unless they have a waif-like figure they will be rejected by men and get turned down for jobs.

Research findings

The survey was conducted for the Bread for Life campaign which is funded by the Flour Advisory Bureau to encourage young women to eat a more healthy diet, including more bread.

Its main findings are:

  • Only a quarter of women are happy with their weight.
  • Half of the women who are classed as being a normal weight using the internationally accepted body mass index say they would prefer to be thinner.
  • Six out of 10 women have felt guilty about eating. Ten per cent of women reacted to this feeling by starving themselves.
  • More than 40% of women are uncomfortable going nude in front of their partners.
  • Only 26% believe they eat a healthy diet.
  • Only 1% of women think men want them for their intelligence; 77% say men want them for their looks.
  • One in four women think their shape will affect their future happiness.
  • More than half say the way they look affects their job prospects.
  • A quarter believe their looks have already cost them jobs.

Girl power

Commenting on the findings, psychologist Pam Spurr says: "These quite shocking results confirm my belief that today's talk of 'girl power' is just that - talk.

[ image: Denise Van Outen: Survey strikes a chord]
Denise Van Outen: Survey strikes a chord
"One in 10 young women admits to regularly starving herself of food. It is worrying that, at a time in their lives when young women should be living life to the full, they are suffering emotional distress because of insecurities about their body image."

Denise Van Outen, the TV presenter who fronts the Bread for Life campaign, says many of the findings strike a chord with her.

"Being in the public eye has made me more aware of the way I look, and I know the pressures young women feel, but you have to try to keep it in perspective and remember that personality gets you where you want to be."

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