I’ve done a lot of youth work with teen and pre-teen girls over the latter half of my life (because scarily I’m old enough to have been doing youth work for half my life now). I started at 16 as a trainee Guide leader in an inner city Guide unit, and went on to become a Youth Advice Worker, a Community Education worker, and in later years while working for a charity I went into schools running lessons on pregnancy to dovetail into the Scottish Sexual health and relationships education curriculum. And over time, I’ve become increasingly convinced of my feminist beliefs.
In a world of sexting, snapchat, facebook and kids getting access to phones younger and younger, things have changed radically for teens since I was one myself. I remember vividly what it was like to be a teenager. And I am insanely thankful that digital cameras were not something we had access to. Because I know in a fit of giddiness during sleepovers (which I firmly believe should be renamed ‘awakeovers’) or when we first began experimenting with alcohol – there is stuff that I’m sure we would have posted on something like instagram for a laugh.
Amongst my friends and I – many of us suffered from poor body confidence and eating disorders as we grew up. I still remember all the girls’ magazines telling us about what we should and shouldn’t wear, our mothers reading up on crash diets in trashy women’s magazines. The boys in our class read magazines with scantily dressed women and gave ideas on creative positions for intimate couple activities. And as time has gone on, the actors on television have got skinnier and skinnier. It’s not just women who are being objectified on body image (though I’d argue it’s still far worse for women). The magazines and newspapers have got more judgmental on body shaming women. And last year after overhearing one too many conversations amongst my Guides calling themselves ‘fat’ or confessing that they didn’t want to try an activity for fear of looking silly we did a programme produced by WAGGGS called Free Being Me. One of the first sessions required me to go find some magazines aimed at their age group so they could analyse the visual content of them. I was utterly appalled when I picked up a magazine called Top Model clearly aimed at 8-11 age group which had an article teaching girls how to judge people based on what they were wearing. I had long stopped buying magazines myself – I have strong views on gossiping and refuse to help a market that uses gossip to sell their product – so it had been a while since I had really looked. I remember standing in the supermarket feeling sick. Because that magazine was aimed at my friends’ daughters.
So you can imagine my rage and disgust when someone posted a news article about this American magazine aimed at a similar age group teaching girls about how to pick the best swimsuit for their body shape.
What 8 year old girl has developed a body shape?! And why should they care what they are wearing when they go for their swimming lessons, or play in the ocean with their family and friends in the summer?!
I was enraged. And concerned.
But most of all, I want to know how the heck I can change this awful body shaming society girls and young women are growing up in. A day later, this clip of an interview Melissa McCarthy (who I love, love, love from Gilmore Girls) appeared on my YouTube homepage.
The whitewashing, the ageism, the photoshopping, the judging a person on fashion choices over ability to do a job. I’m trying to think of all the ways I can give them opportunities to see how the world really should be over how it is portrayed in media of all forms.
Because I think it starts with the adults…