This article was contributed by Dove Self-Esteem Project

The Dove Self-Esteem Project provides teachers, family workers and parents with free school resources to help raise young people's body confidence and self-esteem. Teachers and professionals can download free resources to deliver self-esteem workshops to young people. These articles contain advice suitable for secondary school-age children. 

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When your child is being bullied over their appearance

Girl with her hands in front of her face
More than half of 11 to 16 year-olds have been bullied about their looks, according to a recent survey of children in England and Wales, and 40% of children are targeted at least once a week.
‘Bullying has always existed among young people,’ says Denise Hatton, chief executive of the YMCA, which published the report, ‘but this generation face increasing pressures to live up to unrealistic beauty ideals, which they say come from celebrities, social media and the media.’
Looks have always been a target for bullying: you can probably remember people being bullied for being fat, for wearing glasses or for having red hair. But many experts agree with Denise Hatton that it’s much worse now, with more rigid ideas about how we should look, and with young people feeling they have to be constantly on display on social media. The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parents’ guide has lots of ideas for how to recognise this kind of bullying, and for how to tackle it.

How do you know when your child is being bullied?

It can be hard to pin down when playground behaviour tips over into bullying because it’s so slippery: it can take many forms and it sometimes leaves the victim wondering if they’re entitled to feel upset in the way they do.
There are three key elements that are common to bullying:
  • An imbalance of power

  • It’s intended to hurt

  • It’s repeated

Bullying can be physical; it can involve direct verbal attacks (name-calling), or indirect (spreading rumours or gossip). It can also lead to social exclusion.
Children are often reluctant to admit they’re being bullied. It’s painful to talk about. The whole point of the bullying is to persuade them that there’s something wrong with them.
If your child is being bullied over their appearance, you may notice:
  • A change in emotional state

  • A lack of interest in the things they used to enjoy

  • Reluctance to go to school

  • A change in their dress style

  • Losing weight or making other efforts to alter their appearance

  • Covering up their body

  • Avoiding school

How can you respond?

Chapter Five of the Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parents’ guide, which you can download for free, has lots more information about how to talk to your child about bullying.
  • Don’t give in to the views of the bully - reassure your child you think they’re great just as they are.

  • Don’t treat anxiety about appearance as trivial. Show your child you appreciate their feelings - but at the same time, make sure they know that you think there are many more things about them that are important to you and others.

  • Make your child feel they’re not alone, and that you’re on their side.

  • Empower your child. If they can understand the bully’s motivation (bullies are usually unhappy about something in their own lives - sometimes, in fact, their own appearance) it will help your child stand up to them by looking differently at the situation, and this can really boost self-esteem. Try to turn the negative experience into one that makes them feel strong.

  • Don’t make your child think the bully has a point by getting involved in body-shaming yourself. Make clear you think other people’s bodies and faces are not for you or anyone else to be judgemental about.

  • Suggest that your child talks to someone at school. A school that has strong values that are carried out in practice, and where students are supported, will be able to help.

  • Consider talking to the school yourself. Approach the school as a partner.


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‘Uniquely Me’ is packed with advice and practical activities for parents to help nurture their children's body confidence and self-esteem. It contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action.

Download your free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

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