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Appearance related bullying

Appearance related bullying is bullying that targets an aspect of a person's appearance. It could be that they are bullied for their size, height or disfigurement. It can often be linked with other types of bullying such as racist bullying, disablist bullying, sexist bullying and bullying of LGBT young people. It is often thought of as the most common reason for children experiencing bullying. 

Young person walking

More than half (55%) of young people have been bullied about the way they look, with two-fifths of those experiencing this bullying at least once a week, new findings from YMCA England & Wales show.

Most of the bullying focuses on weight and body shape, with 60% of young people admitting they tried to change their appearance after being bullied and 24% said they reduced the amount they ate or went on a diet. In some cases, the effect was more severe with one in ten of those being bullied about their looks having suicidal thoughts and 9% saying they self-harmed as a result.

YMCA England & Wales spoke to more than 1,000 young people aged 11 to 16 years old as part of its new research report ‘In Your Face’, which is part of its Be Real Campaign with Dove.

Highlighting the devastating effects appearance-based bullying has on young people, the research also revealed that, contrary to popular belief, most young people experience this bullying in person (72%) and not online. A staggering 80% of those getting bullied about the way they look say it takes place in school or college.

Other key findings from the Be Real Campaign’s ‘In Your Face’ research include:

  • 54% of young people who experience bullying about the way they look, do so by the age of 10
  • 1 in 2 of young people reported becoming anxious as a result of being bullied about the way they look
  • 53% of young people think bullies have insecurities about themselves / their own appearance

Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image - Women and Equalities Committee Report 2021 

This report followed a call for evidence about body image in young people from the Women and Equalities Committee. It found

  • that appearance related bullying is a significant cause of negative body image in young people.
  • that WHO reported that children in higher weight categories were 63% more likely to be bullied. 
  • that appearance related bullying was interlinked with disablist bullying, bullying of those with a disfigurement, racist bullying and bullying of LGBT young people. 
  • the digital lives of children and young people were exacerbating the problem of poor body image. 

It recommended that the forthcoming Online Harms Bill included measures to improve body image in young people and reduce appearance related bullying. 


17 Apr 2017