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London - Growing up has never been easy. Worrying new research reveals that 52 percent of girls aged 11 to 17 believe they’d be happier if they were more beautiful - with one in four of them suffering from low self-esteem.
It seems adolescent girls today are also facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to bullying, relationships and peer group pressure. Here, five girls aged between 12 and 17, tell Jenny Stocks what it’s really like to be a young person in 2012.
I drank so much I put my life at risk
Shelley Cukier, 16, from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, lives with her mother Esti, 52, an administrator, her father David, 54, an auditor, and two brothers Elliot, 18, and Joel, 13. She says:
Most Saturday nights I go out - often to a party. Everyone drinks, and there are drugs around. Though I’ve not tried drugs, I did recently end up in hospital after drinking too much at a school friend’s party, which isn’t like me at all.
I went to another friend’s house to get ready, and probably had three glasses of wine and three shots of vodka that my friend bought to get in the mood.
Once we arrived at the party, where there were about 100 people, I remember drinking more vodka - I don’t know how much - and feeling a bit drunk, and then it goes blank. Apparently I stumbled into the garden and passed out. People dragged me inside. My brother was there, and he called my mom, who called an ambulance.
I’ve been told that my friend, on the advice of the paramedics, had to open my mouth to make sure I couldn’t choke on my tongue before they arrived in the ambulance.
It was really scary. I had no idea things that bad could happen just from drinking, that my life could be at risk. I just remember waking up in Watford hospital on a drip to rehydrate me, feeling dizzy, before my mom and brother could take me home.
An alcohol counsellor came to see me to give me a lecture about the risks to my health and the expense of ambulances, and explain how to avoid it in the future by diluting my drinks and other things like that.
Now I feel really stupid. It’s not put me off drinking for ever, but I know I need to be more careful.
I wouldn’t say there is direct pressure to drink, but it’s more like as most people do it, everyone else does, too. I started drinking alcohol a couple of years ago, but I’ve only been drinking most weekends since last year. And I’m not the only one who has drunk too much - I have a friend who had to have his stomach pumped a couple of years ago.
My parents are obviously annoyed, but Mom says it’s a lesson. She doesn’t mind me drinking in moderation, and she did tell me to eat before I went out, but I didn’t get round to it.
Having a good figure is really important to me. I’m a size 8, but if I could be a little bit thinner, I would be. Three or four years ago, I got very skinny - I skipped meals and ate tiny portions. I was around 5ft but weighed about 6st (about 38kg) - I’m 8st 4lb (about 53kg) and 5ft 4in now.
I thought I looked fine, but my parents were worried. My mom felt I was too young to be so weight-conscious, and my dad always commented that I wasn’t eating enough. They sent me to the doctor and I had to keep a food diary of everything I ate for a few months until I could show that I was regularly having three meals a day.
I still weigh myself every few days though. I’m always conscious of my tummy. Within my social group, we all make an effort to look our best, so there is pressure to look as good as your friends.
The boys pass nude photos around
Abigail Hickinbotham, 15, lives in Hereford with her mother Nicola, 41, a carer, her father Stacy, 40, a window cleaner, and her brother Jack, 16. She says:
This February, someone - I still don’t know who - sent a picture of a topless girl to everyone’s phone, at other schools locally as well as ours, and said it was me. I don’t know exactly how many people saw it, but it could have been hundreds.
For a few weeks, I was really upset and embarrassed, as people didn’t believe it when I denied it was me.
Some of the boys are always passing around naked pictures of girls, and they’ve been watching porn since they were 12 or 13. I know because they talk about it and show it to each other. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m not ready to have sex, and I’d rather they looked at it privately. But, where I live, boys are in control and there is pressure on girls to have sex with them.
If you’re a girl, you’re expected to wear lots of make-up and short skirts, and listen to the right music. If you don’t, you have to put up with being called names, especially by the boys.
I get picked on because I’m different to the other girls. I’m into rock music - my favourite bands are Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys - but everyone else listens to pop music.
I’m also into vintage Eighties clothes; Doc Marten shoes and woolly jumpers. I don’t want to look the same as everyone else.
But the boys tell me my music’s rubbish, my clothes are horrible and that I’m weird. When I used to go to school without make-up on, they called me ugly. It upset me - and now I wear mascara, powder and lipstick, though not every day.
I started modelling a couple of years ago at vintage fashion shows, and that gave me more confidence. I’m hoping to get into fashion college after leaving school.
It makes me sad that boys are so judgmental - I feel I’ll never have a boyfriend. I’d like to meet a boy who wouldn’t pressure me to have sex, someone who likes me for who I am, but I’m not optimistic about finding anyone like that at the moment.
I’m addicted to Facebook
Molly Dore, 13, lives in Gosport, Hampshire, with her full-time mother Nikki, 34, her father Gary, 41, a catering manager, and her brothers Jordyn, 11, and Billy, three. She says:
I text all the time - as soon as I wake up, while I’m doing my homework, even in the cinema. One day I sent 487 texts to one friend. I went over my contract by £200 over two months, and my parents weren’t happy about it. They pay my bill, which is normally £15 a month.
Now I have to do a job a day for 200 days as punishment, things like vacuuming the house or walking the dog, and they’ve set a cap of an extra £10 a month on my phone. I do feel guilty, but texting is such a big part of my life I just didn’t realise what I was doing.
Everyone at school has a mobile phone. If you don’t have a BlackBerry, you have an iPhone.
My phone, a BlackBerry, was broken once and I hated it. I couldn’t talk to anyone - I have a group of about 20 friends at school - and felt I was missing out on everything.
Facebook is also important - it’s where you get all the gossip. At school, I check Facebook on my phone between classes - we are not allowed to in lessons, although we are allowed to use our phone internet for research in class - and at home I check it every five minutes.
I guess I’m addicted and it can be a distraction. But I’d be scared of being left out if I didn’t, and not finding out about events and what’s going on.
You’re expected to keep adding people, and have the highest number of friends you can on Facebook, and you have to be careful about what you post on there. You don’t want to say anything that might upset people, and I try to make sure I mention all my friends, so people don’t feel left out and get upset.
I don’t feel that texting and Facebook get in the way of my school work - we often text each other if we don’t understand homework to help each other out. And I think my generation has just got used to juggling it with everything else, as it’s such a normal part of our lives.
My friends are all skinnier than me
Lauren Stevens, 12, lives in Sway, in the New Forest, with her single mother Rebecca, 40, an administrator, and her brother Ben, 14. She says:
I wear mascara, and sometimes concealer under my eyes to cover the bags. I need a little bit of make-up just to look better. The other girls wear so much that I’d feel plain without it.
You have to behave a certain way at secondary school. You have to answer the right number of questions in class, for example - too many and you’re labelled a geek, not enough and people think you’re shy.
You have to make sure you talk to the right people. There are some people who you can’t talk to because nobody likes them, like three boys in my year who everyone thinks are horrible.
I don’t know why, but I still feel weird if I talk to them.
My mom won’t let me go on Facebook until I’m 13, which is a bit annoying, as I miss out on in-jokes, so can’t join in conversations. But at least I don’t get called a “slag” or a “slut”, which is what girls call each other on Facebook if they’ve fallen out.
There’s a rule at school that your skirt shouldn’t be too short, but the girls roll them up and people can see their underwear through the slit at the back. I don’t like doing that - it looks too revealing.
I wish I was a bit thinner. I’m 5ft 1in and 8½ st, so I wear a size 8-10. Most of my friends are really skinny, and it can make you feel bad if you’re a bit bigger, like I am, even though nobody would ever say anything to me.
Before Christmas I felt too big, so I started eating smaller portions. I know my mom was worried, and she went on the internet to show me that my BMI was normal.
I’ve lost some weight now, about 10lb in a month, which made me feel better about myself. I do Kenpo, a type of martial arts, and I feel better when I’ve done sit-ups. My stomach is slowly toning up.
My mom reassures me that I’m pretty, that I should just be myself, that it’s who I am that matters. But sometimes I think she’s just saying that because she’s my mom.
People are cruel about my body
Danielle Gold, 17, lives in Harrow, North-West London, with her mother Melanie, 37, and stepfather Miles, 43, both psychologists, and her brother Alphie, 13. She says:
If a boy my age says he hasn’t watched porn, he’s lying. Boys pass porn around on their phones and watch it online.
When it first started a couple of years ago, there was a lot of boasting about it, and they would send us links to porn websites as a joke. But now they don’t really talk about it.
I don’t mind as long as they don’t watch it in front of me. Though if I knew my little brother was watching porn, I’d worry that he was getting a false image of women.
Boys often have unrealistically high standards when it comes to girls, probably because of celebrities and the images they see on the internet.
You’re expected to look perfect: really slim, pretty face, big boobs, nice hair, not too pale skin. It’s not that they would say anything if you don’t look that way, it just affects your own self-confidence.
I am very insecure about my legs, as I have scarring on my right foot and leg. I have Proteus syndrome, a genetic disease which causes growth abnormalities and tumours, so I’ve had lots of operations.
I’d never go swimming with a group of boys or wear little shorts - I have heard that people have commented behind my back on my condition in the past. One person said that the only reason my friend spends time with me is because she feels sorry for me, and that sort of thing does affect you, although I know it’s down to small-mindedness.
My boyfriend - he’s my second, I had one before him - is one of the only people who sees me without make-up, because I’m so comfortable around him. We’ve been going out for two months, but I’ve known him for a long time.
Before my boyfriend, I was very self-conscious about how I looked. I care much less now. If you’ve got that reassurance, you don’t get so crazy about it in your head. - Daily Mail