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Major study reveals body image insecurities are holding women in Ireland back

Published: Monday, October 05, 2015

Results of the “Looking Glass Survey” published today by the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) and Ignite Research,  show that while women have confidence in their ability to lead, body image insecurities are holding them back.


  • • A worrying 41% of Irish women reported to being unhappy or very unhappy with how they look. Negative feelings about how they look prevent 1 in 5 young women from applying for a job. Most shockingly, 8% of young women are discouraged from going to the doctor because of their personal appearance. Social media has the most negative influence on a young woman’s body image (16-24) while advertising has the most negative influence overall on women’s body image. Interestingly men were far less sensitive to these external influences, by margins up approximately 20% in almost all categories.
  • • 57% women regard themselves as having strong or very strong leadership skills, interestingly a staggering 70% of young women agree. This is compared with 64% of all men and 78% of 16 – 24 year olds.  However, overall women don’t rate their leadership skills as highly as men do.

Speaking about the research, Louise Glennon, Women in Leadership Officer said,

“Men dominate in top leadership positions in all sectors of Irish society, but it is not because women underrate their leadership skills - 57% women regard themselves as having strong or very strong leadership skills and a staggering 70% of young women say the same.  While these figures are not as high as men’s, it is clear that women in Ireland believe they have a strong capacity to lead, and that the ‘confidence gap’ between women and men is not as big as some would suggest.”

Sarah Clarkin, Communications and Social Media Officer said,

“The leadership statistics are positive – women are confident, ready to lead, aware of barriers and craving more diversity in leadership. But we need to talk about body image. The findings from our research show that women’s self-esteem is lower than men’s, as is their satisfaction with how they look. A worrying 41% of women reported to being unhappy or very unhappy with how they look. This has a very real effect on the lives of women – for instance 8% of women aged 16-24 avoid seeing the doctor because of how they look. In a society obsessed with policing women’s bodies, the airbrushed ideal is so powerful that women compare their bodies to it, and find themselves wanting. The results are devastating, and show a preoccupation with body image that affects women particularly in their youth, but remains throughout their whole lives.”

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI said,

 “Advertising has a huge impact on how women see themselves, while social media has the biggest impact on young women aged 16-24. In contrast, external influences have little impact on men’s body image. We need to see more role models for women, and more diversity in leadership. What is particularly interesting is trends in the research, which show that women are far more likely to want to see change – they recognise barriers to women, with 70% saying men get more opportunities than women. In contrast, half of men believe women and men get equal opportunities. It is clear that if we want to see change, we need more women involved in making it happen. Society’s insistence on valuing and judging women’s bodies over their achievements is insidious and powerful. We need women, and young women in particular, to be a key part in changing the narrative.”


For more information or to interview a panel of young women on these issues, please contact Silke Paasche, Head of Communications, NWCI, Tel. 085 858 9104.

Further information on our research is available here.

Note to Editors:

Ignite Research has been operating in Ireland for over 10 years and is the research wing of Core Media, Ireland’s largest Media Group. Ignite Research work across a wide range of industries including charities that operate in both the domestic and international markets. The team at Ignite Research have collaborated closely with the National Women’s Council of Ireland to provide a nationally representative understanding of how women view themselves and the factors that influence body image, self-confidence and aspirations for leadership.

This research is nationally representative of adults living in the Republic of Ireland based on the latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) Data. The study is quota controlled using interlocking quotas of age, gender, region, and social class.  A total of 1,000 surveys were completed in August 2015.