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Costing the invisible: A review of the evidence examining the links between body image, aspirations, education and workplace confidence

Halliwell, Emma; Diedrichs, Phillippa C; Orbach, Susie


Susie Orbach


Throughout the world, girls and women are interested in their looks. What has been perceived as an enjoyable part of life is however imbued with negative economic and psychological costs which are rarely calculated. International studies confirm the disturbing trend that body dissatisfaction and the perception that one is too large (even if this is not the case) undermine adolescent girls’ academic achievement. It doesn’t lead to failure, but to a diminishing in confidence and hence in performance. The marketing of beauty aimed at girls as young as five through to women in their seventies has made the idea of beauty more accessible but simultaneously, the narrowing of the ideal standard to very young women with one body type, one look, one shape, one colour, one breast or buttock size whose images are then photo-shopped to create bodies that rarely exist in real life - and are frequently unrecognizable to the model herself - has had many unfortunate consequences. The beauty ideals which saturate all media from facebook, to tumblr, to instagram, to mainstream magazines, music videos and billboards, create anxiety and shame around personal appearance.Concern about looks, size, weight, shape and attractiveness filch girls’ and women’s minds, passions and bodies. There is an urgent need for multi-level intervention to reverse the trend of poor body image and poor body confidence. The silent self-attacks are thwarting girls’ ambitions at exactly the time when society is apparently opening up to them. Programmes and social policy that can interrupt the cycle of undermining that is intensifying need to be underpinned by robust research, which can demonstrate the economic and psychological case for underpinning girls’ capability and can demonstrate the effectiveness of such strategies. The substantial economic costs of clinical eating disorders and obesity have been assessed in terms of present and future expenditure to the NHS and opportunities lost for young women. However, no costing exists of the ubiquitous breeding of body insecurity which takes form in the growth of appearance anxiety, body dysmorphias, bulimic behaviours, compulsive eating, and confidence issues, many of which are now normative and widespread among adults and young people. It is urgently required.


Halliwell, E., Diedrichs, P. C., & Orbach, S. (2014). Costing the invisible: A review of the evidence examining the links between body image, aspirations, education and workplace confidence

Report Type Discussion Paper
Publication Date Dec 3, 2014
Deposit Date Nov 27, 2014
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords body image, economics, women, girls, education, aspirations, workplace
Public URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This report was commissioned and funded by the British Government Equalities Office.


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