Bullied teenagers increasingly want to have cosmetic surgery, says survey. [The guardian, Nicola Slawson, 16/4/2015]

Increasing numbers of bullied teenagers want to have cosmetic surgery, a survey has found.

The annual survey carried out by anti-bullying charity, Ditch The Label quizzed teenagers across the UK on a wide range of topics to do with bullying. It found more than half of the teenagers who responded felt they had been bullied about their appearance.

One in two went on to say they wanted to change how they look, with 56% saying they wanted to lose weight, nearly one in five wishing they could have breast implants and 5% wanting Botox.

Liam Hackett, founder and CEO of Ditch the Label, said the implications of appearance-based bullying are “significant” and can have “devastating, long-term impacts”.

The survey found teens as young as 13 are adding liposuction and breast implants to their wish lists.Hackett said: “The evidence is clear: young people are now considering drastic and invasive measures to alter their appearances due to insecurities and bullying.”

The popularity of image-based apps such as Instagram and the fashion for taking “selfies” may also be contributing, experts say, as so much bullying happens online.

Claude Knights, chief executive of Kidscape, is not surprised that body-image issues are coming to the fore. “It’s a very visual world we are living in now,” she said.

She also believes the use of “impossibly perfect” models and airbrushing techniques used in teen magazines should take some of the blame.

“This commercialisation of childhood leads in too many cases to distorted body image and low self-esteem,” she said.

This, she said, has a knock-on effect to bullying. “In some peer groups failure to conform to an artificial norm leads to bullying and exclusion.”

Teachers who are on the front line of the fight against online bullying and negative body image are having an increasingly harder time controlling the problems.

Paul Kitchener, deputy head of the Priory School in Shrewsbury said: “There has always been bullying at school but it was often very visible. I found it very much easier to deal with bullying at the start of my career than over the last few years.

“We now have very little bullying of a physical nature or actually in the school.”

The vast majority of bullying is now online or via social media. Kitchener said that before the popularity of smartphones, pupils could escape bullying at home. “Now once they close the door at home, the bullying can carry on, with Snapchat, texts and social media.”

The school works to tackle cyber-bullying during IT classes and has a dedicated programme to help pupils deal with body-image worries. School counsellors are also on hand for any pupil with concerns.

Andrea Danese, a consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry at both the South London and Maudsley NHS trust and Kings College London, is studying the link between obesity, bullying and mental health issues. He explains why bullying has such a big effect during teenage years.

“Feedback during this stage is crucial,” Danese said.

“Puberty is a difficult time. They will be trying to define their identity and what others think of them,” he said. This helps explain why some young people may have a distorted body image and want to turn to plastic surgery.

He also warned children who have a trauma in their past may be more vulnerable to the negative affects of bullying.