Free Being Me

Back in the Autumn, I had a conversation with four of our oldest Guides about the above video. We had been noticing as leaders some chatter and conversations amongst the girls that we’d sometimes overhear, other times to us or in front of us about feeling like they were fat, being teased at school for what they looked like. Free Being Me was at the back of my mind. After the conversation about the ‘Like A Girl’ campaign even more so.

Then a friend who is a photographer approached me about the work I do in Girlguiding. She was concerned about the next generation of young women and the challenges to their body image and self esteem, and wondering if there was a way to use her photography skills to do something to help challenge these issues.

We met in a cafe before Christmas, and got talking…and then I went to our leaders, then our District and Division Commissioners with an idea. We wanted to know if it was possible before we pitched it to the girls.

I didn’t mention anything to the girls, because to be honest, it’s way too easy for us as leaders to make assumptions on what WE think the issues are. It was a difficult balance trying to set something up, fully aware that I was going to scrap the idea completely if the girls didn’t show interest.

On our first meeting back, we sat the girls down round a huge piece of paper and asked them two simple questions.

1. What are some of the things you’d like to do as a unit?

2. What do you think are the main issues and challenges facing girls your age today in our local area?

Body image, self-esteem and girls participation in sport was what they immediately came up with. There was a lot of discussion, many stories they told us about experiences they’d had at school and friends had at school. There brought up issues about gender stereotypes. I was blown away. I promise you, none of us leaders gave any prompts at all.

They didn’t want to leave the meeting that night, they wanted to keep talking and eventually we had to say that we had to leave it there…but based on what they’d said, we wanted to know if as a unit they wanted to look a resource that Girlguiding had produced. We also told them about the photography idea – and asked if they would be interested?

Stunned silence….and then a lot of frantic nodding and ‘yes’ saying followed. We said ok, we’d need to speak to parents, and apply for funding…but we’d try to make it happen.

This week, we began Free Being Me. My friend is going to be coming in halfway through to do a bit of a workshop with the girls as we’ve booked a photography studio at the local college so the girls can design their own self portraits based on what they’ve been learning during Free Being Me. They’ll also get to learn a bit about photography in the process hopefully as an extra bonus. Our hope is to get the photos printed and framed and exhibit them after we finish Free Being Me as part of their Take Action project.

It’s an exciting time, but it’s a been (and stil is) A LOT of work. The parents however have been overwhelmingly positive about it, and we’ve had messages from them (and conversations with them) telling us how glad they are their daughters are getting this opportunity and how they feel something like this is so relevant and needed. That is keeping me going, because at the moment things are CRAZY busy as I’m now on my practice placement for university, and trying to set up and plan my research project (which is going to be looking at the work of Girlguiding, I hope!).

Please be thinking of us, and hopefully I’ll be able to share more about the experience. Also, keep your fingers crossed that the local trust we have applied to gives us the funding for the photography part of our project…we do have a back up plan for funding, but we hope we don’t have to resort to Plan B! 🙂


Free to be me

A few weeks ago, we began a discussion at Senior Section (this is a Girlguiding unit I run with girls aged 14-25) and body image came up. I can’t remember where the discussion had begun – it may have been talking about gender equality from one of the challenges in the Commonwealth Games ‘Ready, Steady, Glasgow‘ pack. I think we showed this video

We discussed how girls were concerned about being judged by other girls on how big their breasts were or their body size or what they were wearing.

You want to say it doesn’t matter.

And then you remember what you saw fill your twitter feed the morning after any film or television awards ceremony. And you realise that most of it is to do with what the women wore to the event more than how amazing their art work was that they were being nominated for an award for. I can’t help but cheer on Sarah Millican (who incidentally I think looks lovely in her dress from John Lewis that she wore to the BAFTAs in 2013) when I read this article she wrote in the Radio Times. And be raging at shows like Lorraine who spent time slagging off her outfit the next day.

When will this change?

I still remember a day sitting in a church office chatting the wife of one of our pastors. I ended up helping her with some simple admin stuff while I was in there and I loved having that opportunity to speak with a woman who had a bit more life experience than I. It was lovely to chat until a moment where she said out of the blue ‘Oh, you know if you did X, Y, Z with your hair it would look so much better’.

I smiled and nodded. But inside I felt so disappointed. Yep, I know my hair is mental and messy. Sure, if I got up an hour earlier every morning I could probably do something to make it look slightly more presentable. But really? Does it really matter what my hair looks like? Does my worth come from how good my hair looks? How clear my skin is? How put together my outfit is?

Quite frankly, my hope is that people look past my mismatched hoodie that I’ve shoved on over my outfit to keep warm or the messy tangle of frizz that I’ve tried to get out my face by pulling back into a bun or ponytail that has started falling out while I ran for the bus…I want people to care about the levels of wisdom, intelligence, kindness or compassion I show over how good my wardrobe looks.

I want to be able to do exercise to feel healthy and socialise with my friends rather than to look like an airbrushed photo in a magazine.

And I never want to be one of those people buying magazines or watching television which is just tearing apart my fellow women.

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has teamed up with Dove to run a programme and challenge badge for Brownies and Guides called Free Being Me. As I watch some of my Guides walk in with their face hidden in heavy make up and telling me they think they’re fat – I’m seriously considering suggest to my fellow leaders that we should put it on the programme after the summer.

I feel sad that my old pastor’s wife felt the need to comment on my looks that she couldn’t see past them very far to what really counted. I like making the effort to make my nails more colourful, or my hair more tamed and enjoy wearing some crazy shoes every once in a while. But the majority of the time – sleep and comfort have a higher priority, and the highest priority is how beautiful I can make my character over how beautiful the package my character comes in…

I want to be free to be me, and I want my fellow Guides – adults, young leaders, rangers, Girl Guides, Brownies and rainbows to feel they can be free to be themselves too.

I want to be part of creating a world where that can happen…who’s with me?