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Beauty over brains?

Think that looks don’t matter? Think again.

A recent survey carried out on behalf of Sky Academy has found that 97 percent of parents and 90 percent of young people believe that confidence is more important than intelligence. Two separate surveys were conducted by YouGov, and responses were gathered from 1638 young people aged 11 to 24 and 677 parents of children aged 11 to 24.

The results revealed that appearance is considered more important than intelligence, with 82 percent of parents rating appearance as an essential factor for success, compared to 72 percent of parents considering that it is important to be “naturally clever” to be successful.[1]

It is concerning that young people receive potentially harmful messages about self-worth from adults that they come into contact with. The “Body Confidence” study, carried out by the Government Equalities Office last year, found that just under half of the adults surveyed thought that “how you look affects what you can achieve in life” and a third even agreed that “your value as a person depends on how you look”.[2]

It may come as no surprise then that many of the 11- to 21-year-old girls who took part in the Girlguiding Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2015 experienced feelings of unhappiness and sadness, with a significant number citing anxiety over appearance as the reason.[3] Taking this issue further, a quarter of 7- to 18-year-olds researched in a OnePoll survey admitted to being bullied due to their appearance, with some disclosing that they were  targeted due to weight problems.[4]

These figures may explain why dismaying numbers of girls state that their confidence is influenced by how attractive they feel. Over half of the young girls who took part in the YouGov survey linked their level of confidence to how they felt about their appearance. It is also troubling that just under half of 17-year-olds also said that they lack the confidence that most believe is key to success.[5]

It may be noble to believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but a landmark study carried out by Cornell University in New York found that when white women put on an additional 64 pounds in weight, they earned nine percent less than their slimmer counterparts. Also, being “average” in appearance affected earning ability, with the top third of women rated as most attractive earning about 10 percent more per annum than women in the bottom sixth of society.[6]

Parents are tasked with a tricky balancing act between building their child’s confidence while underplaying the value placed on appearance and avoiding placing too much pressure on exam results. It could be argued; however, that educational prowess and self-confidence are related.

A study of 1,000 secondary school pupils in four districts of Punjab, India, found that: “There exists a positive, significant relationship between intelligence and self-confidence in respect of secondary school students and boys, whereas for girls, no such relationship exists.

“As for gender differences…it was found that for intelligence and academic achievement, gender differences exist.”[7]

As educators, parents and role models, we need to consider the messages that we are sending to young people and think about how these issues are raised in personal, social, health and economic education. Not all pupils are lucky enough to have families who are able to counter the harmful messages that they receive about success, self-worth and self-image – it is our responsibility, not only, to help young people to grow into happy, assured, and independent adults, but to highlight that all notions of beauty are subjective.

[1] Kaye Wiggins (2015) ‘Parents of teenagers rate confidence and appearance over intelligence, survey finds’, <> [Accessed: 12 October 2015]

[2] Government Equalities Office (2014) ‘Body Confidence: Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey, October 2014’, p.4

[3] BBC News (2015) ‘Parents miss pressures on girls, says Girlguiding’, <>  [Accessed: 12 October 2015]

[4] The Telegraph (2015) ‘Half of children are bullied with most abuse taking place at school, survey finds’, <> [Accessed: 12 October 2015]

[5] Sky Academy (2015) ‘Confidence survey’, <> [Accessed: 12 October 2015]

[6] Laura Sinberg (2009) ‘Think looks don’t matter? Think again’, <> [Accessed: 12 October 2015]

[7] Shikha Dhall and Praveen Thukral (2009) ‘Intelligence as related to self-confidence and academic achievement of school students’, <> [Accessed: 12 October 2015]


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