Survey says: Bullying a top concern for girls’ positive image, Role Models a favorite solution


2 out of 3 Parents say Inappropriate Texting, Social Media Photo Sharing Threaten Young Girls’ Positive Self-Image.

Peers who bully, belittle other girls is #1 concern of adults; positive role models are best for young girls’ healthy self-images; First Lady Michelle Obama is preferred role model; but a minority of young adults say Miley Cyrus counts, too.

The results:

AUSTIN, TEXAS – October 29, 2013 — What’s a girl to do? Bullies, drugs and alcohol, and unrealistic images of women in the media top the list (80%, 75% and 74%, respectively) perceived by U.S. adults to be threats to girls under 18’s positive self-image, according to an online national survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults by Harris Interactive on behalf of GENaustin/The Girls Empowerment Network in October 2013. Alongside those familiar concerns, nearly seven-in-ten (69%) adults pointed to inappropriate use of technology such as social media and texting as damaging to a young girl’s self-image.

Nearly half (45%) of adults say a positive role model is the biggest asset to a girl’s healthy and positive self-image. Topping the list of positive role models for girls are First Lady Michelle Obama (50%), Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas (42%), Oprah Winfrey (41%) and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (36%). Other adults preferred business leaders and entrepreneurs as role models, including Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg (16%), Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer (23%), and fashion entrepreneurs Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen (10%). The least popular choice was singer Miley Cyrus (2%), though four percent of adults ages 18-34 believe she is a positive role model for girls under 18.

The survey, commissioned by GENaustin, which creates after-school programs and workshops for girls and parents, points to the importance of role models and social emotional skills, like having healthy friendships and setting goals. GENaustin’s upcoming We Are Girls conference on November 9, 2013, in Austin, Texas, provides a full-day of activities and workshops designed to support and guide girls as they navigate the unique pressures of girlhood.

“We know that when girls have a healthy and positive self-image, they are more likely to do better in school, have supportive friendships, and are at lower risk for eating disorders and other self-injury behaviors,” says Julia Cuba, LSW, executive director of GENaustin. “Clearly, their social media use is a growing concern for the adults in their lives. We believe that creative and empowering programs like ours can help girls make wise choices in all areas of their lives, including social media.”

Women largely agree (74%) that unrealistic images of women in media can affect girls’ positive self-image. However, younger men and women (ages 18-44) are miles apart on this point. Nearly four out of five women (77%) in this age range agree that media’s images of women are harmful to girls, compared to less than two-thirds of men (60%).

“GENaustin has been working with girls for sixteen years, and in our experience, a girl’s media literacy and her body image can be closely related,” says Cuba. “When girls understand that what they see on billboards, in catalogs and magazines, especially advertising, is manufactured and manipulated, they are relieved. They also get mad – and that’s empowering.”

GENaustin’s Cuba observes that there may be a disconnect between our society’s concern with bullying and its solutions. Eighty percent of adults see bullies as a threat, yet only 18 percent selected friendship skills as the biggest asset for a girl’s self-image.

“Learning to cultivate healthy friendships prevents bullying going both ways, it’s not just a defensive strategy,” says Cuba. “Girls who learn the values of friendship make better choices and learn to change their own behavior – this helps girls who may be targets and the girl who may be likely to taunt her peers.”

Regarding the threats to girls’ positive self-image, additional survey insights include:
• Parent relationships matter. Older women – those ages 55+ (81%) and ages 45-54 (78%) – are more likely than women ages 35-44 (64%) to say a girl’s poor relationship with her parents is more detrimental to her self-image.

• Drug and alcohol use affects self-image, but “saying no” isn’t the highest priority. The widest disagreement among women is the impact of drug and alcohol use, with 4 out of 5 women over age 45 (80%) agreeing it’s a threat, compared with 62% of women ages 35-44. Only eight percent of adults said saying no to drugs and alcohol is the biggest asset to developing a positive self-image, but 75% say it is a threat.

Additional data and insights are available from GENaustin upon request.

More than 1,500 girls and the adults that care about them will attend the 6th Annual Statewide We Are Girls conference in Austin, TX on November 9, 2013, where GENaustin will discuss many of issues including social media use, bullying, body image, healthy eating and sexuality. Learn more at

About GENaustin and We Are Girls

Through after-school clubs, programs and community workshops for girls and parents, GENaustin (The Girls Empowerment Network) supports and guides girls to make wise choices as they navigate the unique pressures of girlhood. GENaustin created an annual event called We Are Girls in 2008 to expand its services that empower girls and their parents to navigate the challenges of girlhood. We Are Girls will be held November 9, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Its 2013 honorary chair is First Lady of Texas Anita Perry; honorary advisor is Bettye Nowlin. To learn more about GENaustin, please visit
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of GENaustin/The Girls Empowerment Network from October 3-7, 2013 among 2,041 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact
# # #

Vanessa Wright