Don’t aim for a Girl Guide badge in perfection

The efforts of anti-Page 3 campaigners chime with the Free Being Me campaign. Picture: Getty

The efforts of anti-Page 3 campaigners chime with the Free Being Me campaign. Picture: Getty

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GIRL Guides have first dibs when it comes to rejecting lies told about women by media images, says Rebecca MacLennan.

The recent “are they, aren’t they… oh, they are” story about The Sun bringing back topless models on Page 3 left many girls and young women disappointed. And rightly so. Girlguiding Scotland believes that all girls have the right to live in a fair and equal society where women’s achievements are seen as more important than their looks. This means that as a society we need to commit to promoting positive role models to inspire girls and young women to reach for the stars.

Low body confidence is a real problem for many girls and young women who are constantly bombarded with media images of supposedly perfect-looking women. Never mind that these images have often been manipulated to live up to unrealistic ideals – the blow to girls’ self-esteem that comes from comparing themselves to them has a hugely damaging effect.

Recent research by Girlguiding through our annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey showed that a staggering one in four girls aged between 11 and 21 would consider cosmetic surgery and that 87 per cent think they are judged more on looks than on ability. Girlguiding Scotland plays an important role in providing a unique girls-only space where they can explore these issues and challenge perceptions. We want to help girls learn that beauty comes from within and empower them to develop their body confidence and self-esteem.

The research also shows that more and more girls are suffering from poor body confidence, growing from 26 per cent in 2011 to 33 per cent in 2013. When girls have low body confidence they miss out on opportunities to grow and develop their capabilities, and we as a society miss out. As the leading charity for girls and young women, Girlguiding is committed to taking action to tackle this problem – to ensure no girl is ever stopped from achieving her full potential because of the way she looks.

Free Being Me is a programme for our members developed by the Dove Self Esteem project in partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. It allows girls to understand that there’s no such thing as a “perfect-looking woman”, and that techniques such as airbrushing are used to create unrealistic images. The programme is delivered by trained Peer Educators who take the girls through a four-step learning journey to identify, challenge and speak out against the image myth – and inspire others to do the same.

In their Brownie or Guide Unit, girls learn to appreciate their bodies for what they can do and not what they look like, through activities that help them work towards their Free Being Me badge. By 2016, 400,000 girls in the UK will have completed the Free Being Me programme, contributing to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts target of 3.5 million girls and young women worldwide.

Through group activities the girls will learn to spot airbrushing and unhealthy body talk. They will be challenged to become body confidence “correspondents” – hosting mock press conferences and coming up with self-esteem boosting new stories – and to take action to spread the body confidence message in their communities.

By developing girls’ body confidence and self-esteem, we can help them to enjoy their lives to the full and make a positive contribution to society without feeling judged. Research from the Dove Self Esteem project showed that six out of 10 girls would stop doing something because of the way they look. Staggeringly, this means everything from taking part in sports, going to the doctor or simply putting a hand up in class. We want to change that, and empower girls to take opportunities to challenge themselves and make a difference to the world without worrying about their looks.

It’s an ongoing challenge for girls to combat everyday sexism when papers such as the Sun print images of women which portray them as passive, posed objects to be admired. No More Page 3 – backed by Girlguiding Scotland members – brought humour, persistence and intelligence to the job of questioning this, and we hope they enjoy their very well-deserved break from the frontline of campaigning.

The goal of Girlguiding Scotland is to empower girls and young women, to build their confidence and show them they can achieve whatever they want if they set their minds to it. That’s why we’ll keep building confidence, and busting the beauty myth, one girl at a time.

• Rebecca MacLennan is a Girlguiding Scotland Peer Educator and a Guide and Senior Section Leader in Dundee, www.girlguidingscotland.org.uk

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