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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’…

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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. 🙂

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

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?