School worries, social media stress, the pressure to look perfect – there are plenty of reasons girls and young women are feeling the strain.
This year’s Girls Attitude Survey, Girlguiding’s annual survey into the lives of girls and young women across the UK, revealed that 69 per cent of girls aged 7-21 don’t feel good enough. And just 27 per cent of girls aged 7-21 say they feel very happy – down from 35 per cent five years ago.
As an Advocate for Girlguiding it’s concerning to see so many girls don’t feel that they’re good enough. But looking at the pressures girls face, perhaps it’s not surprising. Nearly half of girls surveyed said that most of the time the way they feel about the way they look holds them back – making them less likely to wear the clothes they like, have their picture taken, play sport, speak up in class or even have fun with their friends.
Girls said they worry about all sorts of things – from not fitting in to being bullied online, from succeeding at school to finding a job in the future. And as girls get older they are less likely to describe themselves as brave, confident, or adventurous.
Too often we judge our self-worth by comparing ourselves to others – whether it’s celebrities on TV and in magazines or our peers on social media. It can be easy to lose sight of our own achievements and gifts when we we’re constantly playing catch-up with unrealistic expectations and standards.
That’s why it’s so important to give girls and young women the opportunity to define success and happiness in their own terms.
Girlguiding Scotland offers girls and young women a space to decide what’s important to them, what they want to achieve and how they want to do it. From my own experience as a Brownie, Guide and now a member of The Senior Section, I know how important this can be.
As I grew up, guiding continued to give me opportunities to discover what I’m really capable of. I’ve led my own camp, tried abseiling and kayaking, and spoken out on the issues that matter –like campaigning for action on sexual harassment in schools – in my role as a Girlguiding Advocate.
Every experience and opportunity has helped me to grow in confidence. A year ago public speaking made me shake, but as a Girlguiding Advocate I’ve now done live TV and radio interviews and given a speech to 200 people in the House of Lords. In the face of bleak statistics around mental health and well-being, it’s more important than ever to give girls and young women a fun and safe space to be themselves and discover their potential.
One of the ways Girlguiding Scotland is encouraging girls to recognise their own abilities and talents is through our new WOWwoman campaign, which celebrates female role models from all walks of life.
Whether girls choose inspiring figures like Rosa Parks or Malala Yousaf, star athletes like Ellie Simmonds and Jessica Ennis, or the mums, grans, teachers, coaches and volunteers who make a difference in their everyday lives, these women offer girls a powerful alternative to celebrity culture and the pressure to be perfect.
As well as celebrating inspiring female role models, Girlguiding Scotland is encouraging girls and young women to celebrate their own “wow” moments and recognise how much they can achieve. It can be easy to overlook the value everyday experiences – like getting your first Brownie or Guide badge, going on your first camp away, trying something new from climbing to zip-wiring, or leading a group of girls for the first time. But all these opportunities offer girls a sense of achievement and self-worth that isn’t dependent on looking good, fitting in or being the best.
This year’s Girls Attitude Survey shows there is still a long way to go to ensure all girls feel happy and confident.
But by empowering girls and young women we can help the next generation to find happiness on their own terms.
Katie Horsburgh, Girlguiding Scotland member and Girlguiding Advocate.
To join the fun and adventure of Girlguiding Scotland – as a young member or adult volunteer – visit www.girlguidingscotland.org.uk/get-involved/