Study shows how pressure of perfection and language bias impacts girls’ creativity

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

More than three in five girls report feeling pressure by society’s messages of perfection.

A new global study from the LEGO Group reveals girls feel intense pressure to be perfect and believe adults give boys more recognition for their creative work, with parents saying this trend continues into adulthood.

The study shows that everyday language plays a role in inhibiting girls’ from freely expressing themselves creatively. In fact, nearly two-thirds of girls aged five-12 say the language they hear makes them worry about making mistakes, feel like they shouldn’t experiment, or reinforces this need to be perfect.

Perfection pressure and why language matters

Findings from the research looking into societal trends affecting children’s creative confidence reveals  that the pressure of perfection and everyday vocabulary poses a risk, particularly for girls, in holding them back from reaching their full creative potential. But by simply adjusting the language young girls are exposed to from parents, carers and educators in their lives, positive change is possible.

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Surveying over 61,500 parents and children aged five-12 years old across 36 countries, the data calls for societal change to ensure girls can fulfil their creative aspirations, with researchers finding girls as young as five have their creative confidence stifled.

At this young age, three-quarters (76 per cent) reported feeling confident in their creativity, but this declines as they get older. Two-thirds of all girls said they often feel worried about sharing their ideas. This is compounded by the burden of perfectionism and anxiety about making mistakes (72 per cent). And parents agree – with 71 per cent saying girls are more likely to hold back developing their ideas, because of these pressures. 

When children fear failing, it can hamper their willingness to explore and think outside the box. This impacts the key skill of creative confidence – which can carry into adulthood. Creative confidence is the self-assurance to generate ideas, take risks and contribute unique solutions without fear of failure,” says Harvard-trained parenting researcher and bestselling author, Jennifer B Wallace.  

“It’s been found to be a cornerstone of well-being by boosting self-esteem, reducing stress, and increasing happiness, as well as a top-ranked skill for future workplaces according to the World Economic Forum. With over three-quarters of girls aspiring to work in creative industries, it underscores the urgent need for change.”

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Language choices can be powerful

But, ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, the good news is that the study reinforces the fact that change is possible – and it can be supported with some considered language choices.

According to girls themselves, 80 per cent say they would be less afraid to try new things if mistakes were praised more as learning opportunities, while eight in ten say they would also feel more confident to show their work and would value progress over perfection.

The survey’s findings showed nine in ten believe their confidence would be boosted if adults focused more on the creative process of their work instead of the final output – with 86 per cent admitting this would make them feel less worried about making mistakes. 

More specifically, girls report being uplifted by growth-mindset compliments such as ‘imaginative’, ‘brave’ and ‘inspiring’.

The study’s findings highlight a significant societal bias disproportionately impacting girls, with parents noting a prevailing trend where gendered descriptions are commonly used to assess the creative outputs of male and female creators. More specifically, society is around seven times more likely to attribute terms like ‘sweet’, ‘pretty’, ‘cute’ and ‘beautiful’ exclusively to girls. While terms such as ‘brave’, ‘cool”, “genius’ and ‘innovative’ are twice as likely to be attributed exclusively to boys.

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The data also reveals over half of children believe adults listen more to boys’ creative ideas than those of girls. 68 per cent of the parents surveyed agreed that society takes male creatives more seriously than females. 

In a new short film, More Than Perfect, the LEGO Group explores the effect that language can have on girls’ creative confidence.

“What we say early sets in deep. Biased language reinforces traditional gender roles, which can play a role in limiting girls’ creativity and perpetuating systemic inequalities. It can confine them to narrow categories, such as valuing aesthetics over innovation,” says Ms Wallace.

“This implicit bias can hamper girls’ confidence and restrict their opportunities in male-dominated fields. Challenging these biases is essential for fostering an inclusive society where girls can fully explore their creative potential. Every girl deserves the freedom to explore her creativity without fear or pressure.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live