New research reveals the shocking effect toxic beauty standards have on our children online

dove mental health children research
Toxic beauty standards online are harming childrenDove

A new report from the Dove Self-Esteem Project has shockingly revealed that 9 in 10 children are exposed to toxic beauty content on social media apps, with 1 in 2 children reporting an impact on their mental health because of it.

The research, conducted by data consultancy Edelman DXI, canvassed children, parents, social media users and mental health specialists to gain a clear picture of the state of online beauty content and mental health in kids.

The results, while sadly unsurprising, are shocking to uncover. Over 50% of children reported that social media makes them and their peers feel anxious while 9 in 10 youth mental health specialists say that the proliferation of and exposure to harmful beauty content on social media can lead to conditions such as disordered eating or self-harming behaviours.

9 in 10 children are exposed to toxic beauty content on social media

The campaign, which is in partnership with singer/songwriter Self Esteem, features a moving short film (Cost of Beauty: A Dove Film), detailing one girl, Mary's, damaging experience with image-based, triggering beauty content on social media.

In the video, Mary, once a joyful child, finds her body image shattered after exposure to pro-eating disorder content and unrealistic beauty standards on social media, eventually being hospitalised for an eating disorder.

Now in recovery, Mary's story is one of the many shared by Dove, with girls healing from self-harm, body dysmorphia and depression.

'My default feeling for as long as I can remember has been one of inadequacy. It was burned into my mind even before social media, and it has successfully compounded it. It can keep women in a constant state of comparison which they can never live up to, holding us back and stopping us grow,' shares Self Esteem.

50% of children reported that social media makes them and their peers feel anxious

Changing the narrative around the impact social media can have on children begins with us. Social media, by design, is designed to create an addictive loop that keeps users plugged in, scrolling and interacting. Children, with fewer resources to recognise healthy or unhealthy behaviours, are likely to internalise the actions and ideals they see online.

Dove asks that, instead of blaming the parents or individual people, we recognise the need to create a safe environment for all on social media, regardless of age.

8 in 10 youth mental health specialists say social media is fuelling a mental health crisis

'We know social media can have both positive and challenging effects on mental well-being. Young people, especially when they are at high risk in terms of their mental health, are vulnerable to some of the most concerning aspects of social media,' says Dr Bruce Clark, Clinical Director for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

'Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to our children to change the story on mental health. This means better understanding, treatment, and prevention of mental ill health. Working in partnership with young people, families, and schools, we are committed to understanding the causes and delivering evidence-based, effective programmes early [in] young people’s lives when they have the best chance of making a difference.”

As part of its mission to fundamentally change the way children engage with beauty content online, Dove is encouraging people to sign its petition to improve safety for children online.


Dove is working in partnership with the Maudsley Charity to fund the Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People, Parenting Mental Health and organisations like Global Action Plan, 5Rights, and Girlguiding to create the change children need on social media.

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