Don’t read the comments on the piece. They are full of the usual sexist nonsense.

A generation of Britain’s best and brightest young women is being held back from fulfilling its potential to produce future leaders, entrepreneurs and trendsetters because of insecurity and relentless societal pressure for girls to strive for physical perfection.

According to research published today, Britain could lose some 319,000 future businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 women MPs by 2050 unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities.

The study, by the Future Foundation think tank, illustrates how one in four girls (24 per cent) has low self-esteem, buckling under pressure to conform to an idealised notion of how she should look.

Negative comments about their appearance from other girls are one of the biggest factors making girls feel less confident (45 per cent). And low self-esteem damages their prospects, with only one in three confident that she will have a successful career.

Unhappiness with their appearance is a key factor, according to researchers. More than half of the girls studied (52 per cent) said they would be happier if they were more beautiful, according to the study, commissioned by a cosmetics firm as part of its programme to boost self-esteem. [Read more: independent]