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Pat Keenor's Column: Stressed teenagers who want to look like Cara Delevingne

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: March 06, 2014

MODEL LOOKS: Cara Delevingne.

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GIRLS aged between 15 and 19 and men aged 40 to 44 are the most stressed age groups in Britain, reports the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

It is a worrying statistic.

It seems odd to me that teenagers, who should be embracing life, are as stressed as men who are at an age when they may be juggling the competing demands of job, family, mortgages and health.

When I look back to my own teenage years, I can't remember a lot of angst beyond worrying about whether my latest boyfriend was going to dump me; trying, usually in vain, to get my homework done on time; and whether we were going to win our hockey match against Barnstaple Girls' Grammar School on Saturday.

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Exams were a stressful time but I was blessed with two parents who told me only to do my best and not that I was washed up for life should I fail O-level pasty-making.

We were all relatively fit. No one had sold off the school sports pitches and we still had double period games twice a week. And I was in the hockey, netball and tennis teams.

The only way I would have known if I had put on a few pounds would be my grey pleated skirt and black blazer getting tighter – because I never weighed myself.

Now experts warn that an epidemic of anorexia is sweeping through schools and that teenage girls from "aspirational" families are the fastest-growing group using mental health services.

I don't doubt that I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles and I know there were times when I felt like the whole world was against me, but my friends and I never reached the stage where we required mental health treatment.

What kind of pressure are we putting on our young people that in their late teens they feel they have to match up to some impossible ideal of beauty? Why is our league-table obsessed education system pushing everyone to be a high-flying academic when, clearly, many young people have different talents?

Of course, work hard for your exams but there is more to life than a handful of A* A-levels. Potential employers will want to know so much more about your life – your contribution to society, your interests and your ability to get on with your colleagues.

Young girls are presented daily with images of female perfection – not a blemish, wrinkle or ounce of fat to be seen. Of course, all these paragons do have blemishes, wrinkles and ounces of fat, it is just that they have all been airbrushed out.

Although I'm part of it, the media must take a lot of the blame. If an A-list celebrity woman puts on a few pounds, it's headline news, if she's loses a few pounds she's "anorexic".

Let me give a word of advice to those troubled teens:

Nobody is perfect. When it comes to perfection, there is no such thing as the ideal body or the ideal face. In fact, the most beautiful women in history have had imperfections – it was what made them unique.

There is no "one size fits all". We all have different genes. All the slimming in the world is not going to turn you into supermodel Cara Delevingne if you are a solid 5ft-nothing.

True beauty is about confidence, smiling, loving life and being interested in other people – not being obsessed with yourself.

And don't expect anyone else to be perfect. Watch as many films of Pride And Prejudice as you like. You will not find Mr Darcy in real life. The man you eventually end up with – hopefully for life – will have faults.

If – like someone I know not a million miles away – is the untidiest person you have ever met who never closes a drawer behind him, never think you are going to change him or nag him into submission. Accept his little foibles and he will accept yours.

Finally, as writer Steve Maraboli said: "There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty."

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