And over on the Girlguiding UK blog…

…you’ll find a post that I was asked to write by Girlguiding UK’s Peer Education team just before the summer holidays began.

If you’d like to read it click here.

Incidentally, Anneleen, our awesome partner for this project has been up to all sorts of cool things this summer, and is graduating with many honours with her BA in Professional Photography! She’s had a couple of exhibitions in Edinburgh and London, is a finallist in the AOP Student Awards and won a competition run by the British Council. We are so chuffed for her, and proud to know her as a friend of our unit. Also, seriously glad that we commissioned her to work with us on the portraiture project before she started getting so famous… ūüėČ


Free Being Me – the grand finale

In some kind of nutty diary planning, our grand finale to the Free Being Me project turned out to be waaay more crazy than we realised. Sunday 7th June was the day we put in the diary at Easter for the Guides’ exhibition.

First of all, two school holidays ¬†in the month leading up to the exhibition which meant gaps between meetings so the Guides had less time to get the work done. Secondly during that time the other Assistant Leader was on exam leave. Thirdly, I was getting placement done (and the week before I was organising a wikipedia editathon event and a exhibition at a play as part of that) and fourthly, both Anneleen (our photographer) and myself had our final hand-ins for university hitting at the same time. Oh, and our Unit Leader’s kids had sports days and dance exam rehearsals on the week of said exhibition.

IMG_5568I made my family extremely grumpy as I took over the dining room table that week – with only one laptop (mine) at the final two meetings, and I think the same situation was going on at our Unit Leader, Jo’s house.

The girls had put together some stuff about Free Being Me and chosen photos I’d been taking ‘behind the scenes’ at their photo shoot sessions to put together a bit about what they’d done with Anneleen for the event.

IMG_3322This also included their messages speaking out against the beauty myth (the middle display board).

Despite having to take some of their content to type up, I didn’t correct any of it. None of us had been hovering over them too much, and I was blown away by what they wrote. Two of our oldest Guides had done the ‘About Free Being Me’ board (on the left). I used their words for our Press Release which got published on a local news website and the Girlguiding Scotland website.

The Guides had also decided they wanted to share their Free Being Me wall – they each wrote about someone who inspired them…we had parents, siblings, fish, famous women and even Dobby the house-elf from Harry Potter. I’m sure some adults would have told the girls they could only pick real-life humans, but I think it’s perfectly legitimate to be inspired by fictional characters. Sally Fletcher from Aussie soap¬†Home and Away was a role model for me as a young girl.


Leading up the stairs were the inspirational people/fish (some with pictures),¬†they wrote who they were, and why they found them inspirational. On the other side, I had typed out every single quote they had written on numerous pieces of scrap paper and the girls had these going up the stairs on the other side…


I don’t know where half these quotes came from, so I’m sorry if we didn’t give you credit. Most of these came from the girls’ memories or they made them up themselves I think.

And then of course were the portraits.


My favourite part of the day was when I got to be present to a parent seeing their daughter’s portrait for the first time. So many of them gasped and looked at me, Jo or Anneleen and said ‘It really captures xxxxxx’s personality‘. Which of course was the point – the girls did such a great job working with Anneleen to find what makes them – well – them! And Anneleen really captured it with her camera.


The girls raised ¬£130 with a bake sale they organised and decided to have for charity. Frustratingly, the charity they’d chosen had closed down (we only discovered this when the girls asked if I’d email the charity to invite them to the exhibition and tell them they were going to fundraise for them). So note to charities – if you have to close down – please say this on your website, or take your website down!! I was proud of how they welcomed members of the public, served them tea and coffee, and also got very into inventing ‘cocktails’ and putting signs about them outside the heritage centre. ‘Borange’ being the main one (Orange and Apple and Blackcurrant squash mixed together in case you’re wondering).

The paper had asked if we could get a high resolution photo of the girls at the exhibition. Unfortunately not all the Guides were together at the same time due to some of them having other commitments such as rowing and dancing. But we giggled at Anneleen standing on a chair and getting attacked by a fan or light switch while she snapped some pictures of the girls in front of their portraits.


However, much to Jo and I’s chagrin the photo that ended up in the paper was one with the two of us in it. And Anneleen and I have had a giggle that her new artist name should be ‘Anne Leen’ as the editor put in the photo credit rather than ‘Anneleen Lindsay’…


The girls are getting to take their portraits home to keep at the end of term, and I hope that they’ll remember everything we’ve learned together during this last term and a half doing Free Being Me. Now, there’s just our final campfire and last meeting where 7 Brownies who’ll be joining us after the summer will be coming to help with their transition up the sections.

And it seems like two of the girls have used this term as an opportunity to step out and take hold of the opportunities we’ve been telling them about for so long. They are off to their first ever Guide camp this summer – a national one at that (neither of them have been camping with Girlguiding before) and have decided not to move up to Senior Section quite yet..they want to get their Baden-Powell first. ūüôā

I ended up with only five days to do my final assignment for university – but it was worth it to support our Guides to accomplish so much. We, as their leaders, are unbelievably proud of them!

Free Being Me: Say Cheese!

We are now finished with our Free Being Me pack…and now we are working on our take action project. Our Guides were in a strange position of already knowing our Take Action plan (or at least a little of it) before we began the pack, as we had already asked if they’d like to do a photography project with a friend of mine, who is currently¬†finishing up her degree in professional photography¬†– Anneleen Lindsay.



We have applied for funding to work with Anneleen, to do a photography project with the girls that would incorporate what they’d learned during Free Being Me. Anneleen came to do a workshop with them, and the girls had lots of questions for her about editing and photoshop! Together, they came up with a plan for a collection of portraits that would show the connection the girls have through Girlguiding but also how they are each unique individuals. They decided they would all wear their promise badges and as close to Guide uniform as they could, that all the photos would be on a white background….and after that they each decided on props and shots they’d like to do.

Myself and the other Assistant Leader met the girls and Anneleen at Edinburgh College over two sessions (half the girls one night, the other half a different night). Anneleen talked to them about the different equipment and they were even involved in helping with some of the set up. The picture above shows Anneleen explaining her taking a picture with the grey screen at the start of the session as it gets used as a colour benchmark during the editing process of the photos. The girls also helped each other with props and holding reflectors and so on. She has been great with the girls, even during our second session when I was battling a dodgy stomach and Anneleen was coming down with flu. It wasn’t ideal, but we got through it. The girls have been awesome too, and been so impressed with their maturity and loved seeing their creativity in colloboration with Anneleen’s.



After the holidays the girls are going to get a 10 proofs each to choose which portrait they’d like printed for an exhibition we’ll be holding locally in early June. A local charitable trust has given us use of their building for the day. The girls have given me a list of things they want to do as part of the exhibition to help share with the community what they’ve learned during Free Being Me, and what each portrait represents.

Although it’s been exhausting and a lot of extra work and time, it’s been worth it. After the holidays we’ll be putting our action project plan into well, ACTION! ūüôā


Free Being Me – the experience so far

We are now halfway through the Free Being Me resource pack at our Guide unit. It’s been a good experience and the resource pack is very helpful. The youth development worker in me would like certain bits to be a little clearer for the leaders and girls (some of bits are a little bit too cheesey or the activity not particularly well explained) but overall it’s been great and easy enough to use. The most helpful feature is the grid at the beginning of the session telling you exactly what is needed for each task (very helpful to give a quick glance to check there isn’t something we need to get before the meeting that we don’t already have in our resources).

There are some ‘Before You Start‘ suggestions that we’ve used, and some we would have liked to have incorporated if we’d have had more time.

1. Free Being Me wall

We have now set a corner of our noticeboard to be our ‘Free Being Me’ wall. The idea is that we can post quotes, pictures, ideas, stories that inspire us to be ourselves.¬†At our last session, I started our night with a little horseshoe around the noticeboard next to the Free Being Me section, and read the quotes that had been added so far by myself and one of our older Guides. A lot of the girls had already forgotten its existence. By the end of the night, another quote had been added. I’m wishing now we’d started every session at the Free Being Me wall, as I think it would have been a good focus point to begin each session.

**Update 30/03/2015 – we now have a wall COVERED in inspirational quotes and notes by the girls**

2. Treasure Inside Me Boxes

Unfortunately we didn’t quite get this off the ground on the first week as I’d planned¬†due to some unforeseen circumstances. However, on the first night as the girls came in I got them to decorate sticky labels with their names on ready for some small kilner type jars I got in Ikea (80p each). These now sit at the front of our hall with some cut out bits of paper every meeting. The idea is that the girls can leave notes with encouraging and positive messages in each others’ jars. This week there were groups that finished tasks more quickly than others, so I encouraged a group of¬†girls to see whose jars were emptiest and focus on ensuring everyone had a note. It was a delight to then see others then wanting to do the same. It did mean we didn’t get our final task done at the last session though!

3. Secret Friend

We haven’t done this, but I think it would have been a great thing to do. The idea is that every participatnt has a ‘secret friend’ from the group, and they find ways to make their secret friend feel good about themselves without revealing who they are.

Again, time prevented us from setting this up.

Session 1

I really recommend using the Dove Evolution video for explaining the Image Myth. You can find it here¬†(they’ve made it so I can’t even embed it in my blog post unlike most YouTube videos).¬†¬†I managed to set up my phone 3G to connect to my iPad so we could watch it. I really wish Dove made it available to download the video, as many units like our own, do not have internet access at their meeting place.

We had to watch it more than once for the girls to really understand what was going on, and what they changed.

Another thing that helped was having a big roll of paper – for doing our group discussions on body image. I also struggled to find age appropriate magazines (and WOW are they expensive?!). I ended up getting Teen Vogue, Top Model and Shout.

There were however way too many activities crammed into this session, and they had definitely underestimated the timings in the pack. If you really want to give your girls a chance for discussion (especially if you have a unit of more than 10 girls and are having to split into small groups and then come together as a larger group for feedback) then I would say split your session 1 into two weeks – maybe use some of the first week to create your ‘Treasure me boxes’, set up secret friends, do Guidelines, Free Being Me wall and so on. The discussion part is important, and the girls gain nothing if they aren’t given a chance to learn and critically reflect on the questions and information being put before them.

Session 2

Session 2 was much easier to manage as it was only two activities. Keeping the girls focused to get both done was the main challenge!

Session 3

Session 3 needs leaders. Thankfully all 3 of us were able to be there, otherwise it would have been a struggle, as you needed at least three ‘mission stations’, each one to be manned by a leader.

We’ve also had an additional session with the Photographer who came into do a workshop with the girls to plan their self portraits, as they have decided on how they want them to look, what props they want to bring to help show who they are. Over the next few weeks the girls will be going into the photography studio at a local college campus to get their photos taken. The girls had so many great ideas for this, and also got to hear from a Photographer how photoshop isn’t always a bad and evil thing if used well and not to completely alter the photograph, about setting up shots, how different elements can tell a story or give an impression.

Meanwhile, I’ll let you see a few messages the Guides wanted to share with you relating to the Image Myth:


“Everyone is beautiful in the outside but personality is the thing that counts not photos and make up!”

“Make up doesn’t make you pretty it’s in the name “make up” it makes you something you’re not. Now, wear your smile, you suit it!”

“Make up doesn’t ¬†radiate who you are, it doesn’t make you. It’s your uniqueness that makes you you”

“If you look fake! People won’t know you are real!”

“Even if you cover yourself in cosmetics you will still be the same person!”

“It is your personality that matters, not how fake you look”

“Even the people in the magazines don’t look like that!”

“I want to scream and shout and let it all out – spread the word and say¬†what is right about looks!”

“I really hate the image myth because image myth can be quite hurtful if you are the model being shown”

“Don’t fall for the image myth otherwise the image myth will fall for you”

“What matters is the way YOU are, not who other people are, because you only be you, not a version of another person. Make sure you’re not doing anything that you don’t want to be doing. Make sure you do things for your own benefit”

“Be who you are want to be – not what other people think you should be!”

“The way you look only says a tiny bit about who you are. Make time to get to know the real you and other people”

We only have a couple of more sessions to go, so I’ll keep you posted when I can. Hope this helps any other leaders and peer educators planning to do Free Being Me.¬†

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! ūüôā

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?