The #1 concern for young people is body image. And stress.

What was your biggest concern when you were a teenager? If you’re over 30, I’m going to bet it probably wasn’t body image.

This year’s Mission Australia survey of 50,000 young people aged 11-24 has shown that BODY IMAGE is the #1 concern overall, followed by FAMILY CONFLICT and STRESS.

According to a study released by Mission Australia today


Body image is the leading personal concern for young Australians while close to one-in-two list the environment as the most important issue facing the nation according to the country’s largest annual survey of young people.

The survey also shows that young Australians are wrestling with stress and school/study worries at far greater levels than in recent years.

The national survey, conducted by Mission Australia, tested the views of more than 50,000 young people – its biggest group since the survey began in 2002 – between the ages of 11-24 (98 per cent aged 11-19). In addition to their concerns it surveys what young people value, who they turn to for advice, what activities they engage in and how they feel about the future.

When asked to rank their personal concerns from 15 issues body image was ranked most frequently in the top three by 31.1 per cent of respondents, followed by family conflict at 27.8 per cent and coping with stress at 27.3 per cent.


Body image was the   leading issue of concern for 11-14 and 15-19 year olds and for females. Almost one-in-two 20-24 year olds considered it a major concern. For young males, body image was the second highest concern behind alcohol – 27.4 per cent to 28.5 per cent.

Coping with stress (18.7 per cent in 2009 – 27.3 per cent in 2010) and school or study problems (17.3 per cent in 2009 – 25.5 per cent in 2010) experienced the greatest increase in concern from last year’s survey.

Mission Australia’s spokesperson, Anne Hampshire, said concern about body image was evenly split between young people worried about their personal appearance and the unrealistic portrayal of ‘the perfect body’ in the media and elsewhere. was that young people are worried both about their personal body image and about how the media continues to promote a level of physical perfection that is neither healthy nor achievable. It places an enormous amount of pressure on young people,” said Ms Hampshire.

“I think it tells us that despite the fact that governments, welfare groups and youth agencies have moved to tackle the issue of poor body image in recent years, there’s still a lot of work to do – particularly among young adults where we saw the biggest jump in concern.

..Ms Hampshire said increased concerns about coping with stress and school/study problems reflected the importance of equipping young people with the ability to deal with life pressures.

“We often forget the range of competing demands and pressures juggled by young people – relationships, education, employment, the expectations of parents, peers, schools, the wider community as well as themselves,” said Ms Hampshire.

“This can be a very stressful time and our results bear that out. Many young people indicated they wanted to be able to manage their stress better, noting the potential negative consequences of not doing so, including a range of mental health issues.

“We need to better equip young people, including in early adolescence, with the practical strategies to help them deal with stress. The level of concern suggests the merit in a community discussion about the nature and sources of stress among young people and how we can alleviate it.”

“Although I have grown up in an environment where I’ve been told I’m perfect the way I am, and I have been quite happy with  my appearance throughout my entire life, it is still difficult to feel truly happy about body image in a society so motivated by beauty. Everyday I am presented with pictures of women who are physically superior to me, even if they’re not smart or kind or generous.” -Female, 20 yrs

Coping with stress was my most concerning issue because if things in your life aren’t dealt with appropriately in whatever way, they can turn into a stressful situation. Everyone expects so much of you – to get good grades at uni, to make money from work, to stay fit and healthy and a size 10 or whatever, to have time for everyone – it’s a lot for a young adult to handle. -Female, 18 yrs

I’m stressed out and worried about my future. I dont want any distractions e.g. girlfriends. I want to stay focused and do well at school and girlfriends etc can come after. But heaps of people don’t think like me and tease me for it at times. -Male, 16 yrs


This is so sad and so alarming to me. The body image stuff doesn’t surprise me. Never before have young people been so bombarded by fake images of digitally altered ‘perfection’. Is it any wonder they look in the mirror and feel bad about themselves?

When magazines and music videos, billboards, bus shelters, and TV ads deliver the single message that they must be perfect by showing them images of people who don’t exist. Images of men and women who are already extraordinarily beautiful or who spend all their time and money on their faces and bodies which are then STILL digitally altered to make them even ‘better’.

And when the vast majority of people don’t realise that these images are fakes? No wonder they feel inadequate.


God it makes me mad. Last year, the National Body Image Advisory Group, of which I was chair, presented our recommendations to the Federal Government who announced that they would implement some of those recommendations earlier this year.

A key one, was the voluntary code of conduct for the media, advertising and fashion industries. But has much changed? Not that I can see. That doesn’t mean that what we did was not worthwhile, I passionately believe that it was. But I am deeply deeply disappointed by the refusal of these industries who make so much of their money from young people, particularly young women, to come to the party and look at changing the way they portray women.

And don’t think it’s just women. The top concern for young men? Alcohol followed closely by….BODY IMAGE. Boys are the new frontier of bad body image and it’s understandable given the propagation of hairless six-packed men in every aspect of popular culture.

Do we really want to send the message to young people that they’re only as worthwhile as their hair extensions, their spray tans, their six-packs and their inflated lips?

On the subject of stress, I think that’s also totally understandable and a cause for concern. It IS stressful being a teenager or even a kid, far more stressful than it ever was for anyone over the age of 25.

It used to be that at the end of the day, you could come home, sit down and switch off. Now you cannot switch off ever. Not for a second. It used to be that after a certain time, your home phone could no longer ring or your parents would freak out. So there was a natural end to the amount of time you could communicate with your friends and the world.

Not anymore. Kids are texting each other and phoning and Facebooking during lunch and recess, on the bus to and from school and during every waking moment at home, at sport and everywhere else. It never ends. And all that contact is stressful and exhausting if you never get a break from it.

If you’re under 25, what are the biggest stresses in your life and how could they be eased do you think? If you’re over 25, do you think things have changed so much? Why are kids so stressed? Do you have kids who you see being stressed by very different things than you were?


If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and/or you need help please contact The Butterfly Foundation. The Butterfly Foundation provides support for Australians who suffer from eating disorders and negative body image issues. They also provide support for their carers. They can be contacted through their website at or on (02) 9412 4499


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