Tia, 15: ‘I think as a girl it’s very stressful’
Why do so many teenage girls feel depressed? In The Day’s series on gender, Tia explains the many different pressures young girls face, from exams, to make-up, to Brexit.
“I like gardening a lot,” says Tia, who is 15. “I like photography, I like listening to music, I like going out and riding bikes.” One day she wants a job that involves talking and using her voice. “Just talking to crowds. Not really like a TED talk,” she laughs, “but kind of like a TED talk”.
Tia is a cisgender girl, but says she does not feel particularly masculine or feminine. When she was 10, she enjoyed playing football as much as playing with dolls. She says she misses the freedom of childhood.
“It’s a bit unfair really... When you’re younger you can literally do anything and get away with it.”
Now, she is becoming more interested in clothes and make-up. “I think I’m getting a bit more feminine… when you see your friends wearing make-up, and popular people wearing make-up, and your mum wearing make-up... it’s been copied and imprinted on each person, so they care — especially girls — care a lot more about their appearance.”
The pressure to look a certain way also comes from the media and the internet, she says. And it is one of many pressures that teenage girls face in the modern world. “You’ve got your exams, you’ve got your social life, you’ve got family, all of that together can be very pressuring. And then, put on top of that, you have all these articles and applications on social media, telling you ‘you need to be this way’.”
She says she read an article about how British teens have some of the lowest well-being in the world. “I find it really upsetting,” she says. “It’s also because we’ve just got… I think it’s Brexit! There’s lots of different things happening in our country, and everything put together is a lot of stress.”
Then there are personal hardships. Many of her friends have “had it pretty tough”. Tia herself felt very low when her grandmother passed away a year-and-a-half ago. She says she feels better now, but “the need for support is very important” in schools and from the government. “It needs to be done more hands-on.”
How important is gender to society?
“Very important,” she says. “It’s a very big area. Some people think that there’s only a boy and a girl, but there isn’t.” Luckily, “there’s less ignorance in our generation. Before, there were loads of people who, if they saw a person who was different to them in race, gender, size, ethnicity, sexuality or whatever, would automatically criticise you. And that’s… that will change your entire life. I don’t think they understand that the world changes every few seconds… There’s no point in poking fun at another person because of who they are.” It is time to “open the eyes of the older generation… as a nation, and in the world, we need to change our whole perception of gender”.
- Do you feel like you had more freedom as a child than you have now?
- What is the biggest issue facing teenage girls in 2018?
- Write down all of the characteristics and stereotypes that you can think of which are associated with femininity. Then discuss: Are they mostly positive or negative traits? And do you think they accurately reflect the girls that you know in real life?
- Is the government doing enough to support teenagers’ mental health issues? Write a paragraph explaining your opinion.
Some People Say...
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”Coco Chanel
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- In November last year, figures from NHS Digital showed that one in 10 girls aged 16 to 17 are being referred to specialist mental health services in Britain. There has also been a 68% rise in self-harm among teenage girls since 2011. Earlier in the year, a University College London report found that one in four teenage girls felt they were depressed.
- What do we not know?
- What is behind the rise in mental health problems among British teenagers, or why it appears to affect girls more than boys. Although some blame social media, it may not be so black and white. Researchers have also noted that four in 10 British girls feel more confident online, and that teenage girls around the world are “harnessing the power of social media” to change perceptions of beauty.
- Someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth. In Tia’s case, she is biologically female, and identifies as such.
- In October 2017, a survey by Edelman Intelligence for Dove interviewed 5,165 girls aged 10 to 17, in 14 countries. It found that only 46% of girls had a high body esteem. In Britain, it was 39%. Girls with lower body confidence were more likely to skip meals, and avoid friends and family.
- Social media
- The same survey by Edelman Intelligence found that girls who used social media were more likely to feel pressure to look certain ways.
- Lowest well-being
- In February 2017, a survey by the Varkey Foundation, of 20,000 people aged 15 to 21, ranked Britain 19th out of 20 for mental well-being.
- Polls suggest that around 70% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum.
- In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled plans to introduce more mental health training in secondary schools.
- For example, Facebook users can choose from a list of 71 genders.