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Troubled NI girls 13 times more likely to call ChildLine than boys

By Claire Williamson

Young girls in Northern Ireland are 13 times more likely than boys to call ChildLine for concerns about their appearance and weight - with one 12-year-old telling the service "she didn't like herself".

Figures released by the NSPCC revealed that among the reasons cited by the young people struggling with self-esteem issues were "body-perfect" images on TV, magazines and social media.

In 2016/17 there was a total of 54 counselling sessions delivered to young people with body image issues across the region.

Of those cases, 40 were with girls, three were with boys and in 11 cases the child's gender wasn't known. 

In total, 2,609 counselling sessions were delivered across the UK to young people with body image problems, with 980 of these given to 12 to 15-year-old girls.

A further 120 counselling sessions were delivered to girls aged 11 and under.

A number of young people in Northern Ireland who were counselled by ChildLine about how they look also revealed that they were struggling with depression and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

These issues were heightened when the individual also suffered bullying at school and online -and in some cases victims were driven to try and change the way they looked.

One 12-year-old girl told ChildLine: "I'm feeling really sad and I don't like myself. I keep comparing myself to pictures of people in magazines and people on TV and I wish I looked like them. I don't want to talk to people about this because I don't want to worry them."

Another girl aged between 16 and 18 said: "I feel so embarrassed about the way I look. I hate my body. When I'm with my friends I always feel like the fat one. I can't dress like my friends because it makes me feel fat and ugly. I'm too embarrassed to tell anybody how I'm feeling and it's making me really lonely."

Mairead Monds, ChildLine manager for Northern Ireland, said: "Our ChildLine counsellors in Belfast and Foyle talk to dozens of young people from across the UK every week about anxieties surrounding their appearance. Last year ChildLine delivered 54 counselling sessions to young people from Northern Ireland on this issue.

"Young people - especially girls - are telling us that they feel extreme pressure to have the perfect body and looks that conform with people they see on social media, TV and magazines. 

"Our counsellors find young people often struggle to find anything positive to say about their skills, achievements or appearance.

"ChildLine and the NSPCC are working hard to help children growing up today to overcome society's unhealthy obsession with appearance and feel happy, secure and confident."

ChildLine founder Dame Esther Rantzen added: "ChildLine will continue to provide vital support for young people to ensure those on a journey of self-acceptance never feel alone. "

Any adult concerned about the welfare of a child or young person can call the NSPCC helpline for free, 24/7, on 0808 800 5000.

Children can call ChildLine at any time on 0800 111, visit www.childline.org.uk or download the For Me app

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