Girls, Bodyshaming and our media…

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…

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Life in dungarees…

My blogging is getting sporadic again, and this week I really have NO excuse not to blog as it’s the Tattie Holidays – which means I’ve got FOUR free evenings this week (this is unheard of).

There’s lots to write about good and bad.

I’m going to start with the bad because I’d rather end on good.

The bad…is that the winter blues have arrived. I suffer from something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which means when the weather gets colder, the nights get longer I really struggle to go about my daily life. Everyone is affected in different ways, but for me, it usually means getting very depressed (most mornings as I’m getting up I will be very tearful), I struggle to sleep at night and quite often will start having short-term memory loss/lack of concentration (which I think is usually a result of the insomnia). I’ve had a lot of support from my online friends, some of whom have had depression, some of whom also have SAD and discovered a number of things that help. I use an app called ‘Flux’ on my laptop to simulate daylight/nighttime. Trying to stock my freezer up with at least semi-healthy comfort food (as in bad times, I find it difficult to get energy and motivation up to go to shops to buy food to make proper meals) like soups, fruit crumbles and chilli. This year, it really hit me last week and within two days I was climbing the walls with despair, and it took every ounce of strength and courage I had to get myself out the house on a cold rainy day to get to my Italian class. I cried most of the way there, because I honestly in that moment had forgotten what sunshine looked and felt like and felt like I would never see proper daylight again. Last night I bit the bullet and used some of my tuition fees savings to invest in a Lumie alarm clock which simulates sunrise. I’ve been recommended this by two SAD sufferers, and really hope that it helps me this winter season.

Ok. So. On with the good and exciting.

1. I have rediscovered dungarees
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As I wrote on my Girlguiding blog, my Guides were doing a badge created by a unit in Lesmahagow called the ‘Minion Mayhem Challenge’ and on the last night of Guides before the holidays we all dressed up as minions. This meant spending two afternoons going to every charity shop, vintage clothing shop and fashion retail shop in Edinburgh city centre to find a pair of blue denim dungarees. And a yellow top. Eventually I got a pair, they are a little big but man are dungarees comfortable!! I don’t care what I look like, I’m now going to be wearing them more often.

2. Ballet Fridays

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Though soon I’ll be arriving in the dark (sob!) but how can you not love this view that is at the back of the National Centre for Dance? Our teacher is continually getting us to work on the details of our movements and though my feet and legs are often very sore the next day, I’m loving my classes. And I finally found a ballet leotard to fit into. This is mainly so I can wear ballet tights as one of my classmates said “He [our ballet teacher] is the only man I shave my legs for“. And let’s be honest in winter…it’s too cold to walk around in cropped leggings!

3. A reason to go back to Glasgow…Part 1IMG_5944

My friends very generously and amazingly gifted me something extremely special this summer. They got us tickets (so I can go with them) to see one of my favourite bands play in Glasgow. I am finally getting to see Death Cab for Cutie live! I haven’t bought a music album since I got made redundant last year, but found their latest album at a very good price in a music shop while on a search for dungarees last week. I’ve been listening to it in my Mum’s car ever since. Coincidentally their album shares a title with my friend Holly’s new blog: Kintsugi.

4. A reason to go back to Glasgow…Part 2.

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Three years ago I found out that the World Artistics Gymnastics Championships would be held in Glasgow in 2015. Going to see a World Championships (and a Europeans, and an Olympics) has been on my bucket list since 1996. The only problem was that when the tickets came out at the beginning of this year, I was paying tuition fees for university and was on Jobseeker’s Allowance. So I didn’t have money to get season ticket. I realised a few weeks ago that I would likely regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t go. So I bit the bullet and bought two tickets to both the Men’s All Around and the first day of Individual Apparatus Event Finals. I don’t know who will come with me yet mind you, but although I’m going to be in the cheapest, crappiest seats….I AM GOING TO SEE THE OLYMPIC QUALIFYING WORLD ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS IN PERSON. It’s in the same venue as the Commonwealth Games was last year.

5. My brain is confused with all the words

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I couldn’t take Spanish this term (still) and so I decided to learn Italian because I wanted a class that was during the day and midweek, and then because I got that funded, I decided to learn German too. I’m actually enjoying learning German better as I feel the classes are more intensive and I’m learning more and having a better understanding of the language than I am in Italian. One of my old blog friends suggested in jest a few months ago that I should go work for an international school in Germany, and well…if that ever becomes more serious than a joke…at least I’ll know more German than ice cream, chocolate, scoop and apple juice. If I’m still only working part-time and able to get the funding again I may continue with German next semester.

And last but not least…

6. Airmail Christmas

Yes, we will be doing Airmail Christmas again this year. Rebecca isn’t able to coordinate it this year, but as I helped her do this in the first year (as she was in Australia) I’m stepping in again! We have contacted a family of someone we would like to honour, and hope we will have more details about how you can sign up and participate next month.

Quote of the Week 40 – The more you learn, the more you’ll know

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The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

The other night I found myself flicking through channels while waiting for one of the only shows that I watch on TV to come on (The Graham Norton Show, if you are wondering!) I stumbled across an old episode of Room 101 and one of the guests on it was trying to put ‘friends who take up new interests’ into Room 101. The conversation depressed me, and I was so glad that Frank Skinner shot the guest down with his joy of learning new things and how he believed strongly that people should never stop learning.

Yes Frank! Preach it bro!

Yes, I may hugely biased, seen as I’ve spent most of my adult life advocating lifelong learning. And the last two years studying it. I think school has had a hugely negative effect on both our ability to learn and joy that can be found in learning. And we have a culture that tells you that learning is something you only do in a classroom and when you are young.

When I left the church four years ago, I went back to my roots volunteering with Girlguiding, and within a few months was working towards my leadership qualification. I was going to training events, re-learning First Aid, and getting to do all sorts of things I didn’t think I’d ever be doing again. It relit my passion for youth work, and it was truly the awesome young ladies I worked with that inspired me to go back to university. I finally finished an application form and submitted it. I won’t tell you how many application forms I filled out and never quite finished or posted/submitted in the previous 7 years before July 2013.

The Senior Section programme is called ‘Look Wider‘ and encourages the young women to try new things, learn new skills and share what they’ve learned with others. As I signed off their record books I began to realise all the things I loved doing but stopped, or thought I’d go back to but didn’t, or wanted to try but figured it would happen at some point.

Now these days, I’m fully embracing lifelong learning. Last year I finished my Leadership Qualifications and we had a party back in March to celebrate three of us who have volunteered in the same building with two Girlguiding units. Back in the spring, I returned to ballet. Ballet in a lot of ways was my first love. I begged to learn ballet at the age of 3 and loved it. But eventually had to stop as my Mum simply couldn’t afford it. I took books out of the library when I was about 8 to try and teach myself, and it wasn’t until I was 14 that I started properly learning again at the pushing of my Modern Dance teacher. I got my Dad to pay for my lessons, and when I started earning my own money I used that and my pocket money to pay for extra classes. I got my first pointe shoes when I was 15 and my friend’s sister faked a permission slip from my Mum. We hid the pointe shoes at my friend’s house until I could convince my Mum to actually give me permission. I’m terrible at Ballet, but I still love it. I love the hard work. I giggle at our teacher’s commentary as he encourages us to correct our movements and gives us helpful pointers. I don’t mind the pain in my muscles (though running for the bus after class is sure to get me squashed by a vehicle as my jelly legs sink into the tarmac one day soon). I also love languages. My grandparents learned Italian when they retired. My grandfather learned French from someone when he was a teenager. I loved studying French and Spanish at school. And as a kid I tried to learn bits of language anytime we were ‘abroad’. I learned the Greek alphabet, I learned how to count in Turkish, and the fact that my full knowledge of German consists of ‘Apple juice, scoop, ice cream, one, two, please, thank you, chocolate, train, youth hostel’ tells you a little of how I spent most of my time and money the times I have visited Germany.

Learning doesn’t mean having to attend classes. Sure at the moment, I’m going to ballet, German and Italian classes. But I’ve learned a ton through Girlguiding. And I’ve had fun since last Autumn teaching myself the ukulele too. Again, I’m not very good, but I love playing. I have friends that are dressmaking, crocheting, knitting, cooking, surfing, cycling, doing Pilates, Open University courses….all sorts! I love when they share with me what they’ve learned or how they’ve improved a skill.

And honestly, some of the joy is actually with the people I’m meeting doing these things. Oh the places we’ve been! The things we’ve seen! I’m starting to get to know my fellow ballet ladies after a term by name now, and already had some giggles with the folks in my German class. And my Girguiding sisters are such a great bunch. Three of us have spent the last few days getting together our minion costumes to end the Guides’ Minion Mayhem Challenge pack with some fun!

So what do you fancy doing, what to do you want to know? Go out and discover…oh the places you might go!

Quote of the Week 8: Good Turns

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Lent began last Wednesday. Many people will give things up for Lent, but over the years there has been a bit of a backlash against this religious tradition. Why give things up when you can take things on? In 2009, my friends and I did something called The Art of Joy in Edinburgh, and part of that was coming up with an ‘Act of Kindness’ that people could do each day throughout the time we held the various events and our art exhibition. Now that idea has become a thing through the 40 acts movement on social media during Lent.

Of course, us Girl Guides have long understood and applied the idea of doing acts of kindness. From the time we were Brownies we had it instilled into us that we should do a ‘good turn’ (that’s Guiding speak for what you folks now call a ‘random act of kindness’) every day. From 1991 you could stop me in the street at any given moment and ask me to recite the Brownie Guide Law

“A Brownie thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day”.

Whether that was washing the dishes, making your bed without being asked (hey we were only 7!), helping a neighbour carry their shopping, polishing our school shoes, inviting someone to join in a game, welcoming someone new…oh the list was endless. Our Brownie annual would be full of stories of Brownies who knew just what to do if an old lady fell down in the street or our house went on fire or there was a new person at school.

Encouraging our children to do a ‘good turn’ every day might seem silly or no big deal. And some of things that counted as ‘good turns’ may seem trivial. But Olave was right….it helped us learn to think of others before ourselves.

It’s because of that I’m constantly wondering who made the clothes I’m wearing and if they had decent wages and working conditions.

It’s because of that I loved when new people arrived at school and I got the chance to be their ‘buddy’.

It’s because of that, that when there was a snowpocalypse in our town, we made sure our elderly next door neighbour was warm and had plenty of supplies. (We also made sure to remove the iciclies from her gutters in case she did venture outside her front door).

It’s because of that, that Girl Guides have often been proactive in campaigning for equality, rights, peace and friendship.

It’s because of that, that when there was a war on, girls across the country were raising funds and training up in preparation for the war ending to get to the countries more badly affected than our own and bring aid and relief.

And it’s because of that, I was able to spend months of my first year at university showing 18 year old lads (and some girls too) how to use a washing machine and do their own laundry. (Make negative comments about the old Brownie House Orderly badge and the Guide Laundress badge all you like – but at least I went to university knowing how to mop a floor, clean a bathroom, clean my clothes & get blue hair dye off a white sink!)

From a young age I was encouraged to think of others, to try, and to learn new things. I’m so grateful for those opportunities. I’m glad that I went to university confident in my ability to make new friends and live independently from my parents.  I’m glad that the importance of engaging with politics and ethics has been instilled in me. I’m glad that I’ve been taught that there are things worth fighting for.

Thank you Olave… I think you’re right.

BK’s YouTube Picks: This Girl Can

As many of you know, a good chunk of my “spare time” is spent volunteering with GIrlguiding UK. Currently I help lead two units – a Guide Unit with girls aged 10-14, and a Ranger Unit with (soon to be two groups) of young women aged 14-25.

One of the things that has come up again is issues of body image, self-esteem and self-consciousness. At our first meeting of Guides this term, we asked them what issues they felt girls their age were facing today. The perceptions of girls and their ability to participate in sport, or unwillingness to participate in sport or what they are told about participating in certain sports was a hot topic that the girls spent a lot of time talking about with no prompting from us. I’ve heard more than one of our girls tell me they think they are fat, or that they ‘can’t do it’.

I had heard about the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign through following Clare Balding on twitter. I love what she is trying to do to get women more equally recognised for their sporting achievements, and saw pictures of the campaign launch night.

Because it isn’t just young girls who struggle with body image and feeling self conscious…women of all ages do. And quite frankly if us older generations don’t get ourselves in a place where we are content with who we are, then the generations coming up are going to learn from us that they should have issues with body image too.

Be inspired. Get active. Quit judging. Find people you’re comfortable with being yourself and do it together, or if you prefer, use the exercise time to have some peace to yourself!

Oh, and get a good sports bra. Trust me, especially if you go on a running machine or do zumba…you’ll appreciate that support (or as I like to call it boob prison…sometimes I wear a bra and then my sports bra over the top for extra boob incarceration!!)

Thank you to the women who took part in filming. Thank you for showing that yes…WOMEN CAN!

What is your favourite way to stay active?

#BookADayUK – Nov 11

Today the prompt is to share our favourite ‘World War 1’ book. IMG_0653

Last year, many of our Guides were learning about the World Wars at school, and so we decided to look at the history of Girlguiding ahead of Remembrance Sunday by doing their Traditions of Guiding badge (you can read more about that here).

For my own interest I bought a couple of books about the start of Girlguiding, and could not put one of them down. How the Girl Guides Won The War is an incredible collection of memories and parts of scrapbooks that Janie researched through the Girlguiding archives. Although I was aware of our emphasis on friendship with young people around the world and the fact that many Girl Guides learned mechanics, first aid, needlework and survival skills that were beneficial for the wartime periods, I had no idea what a key role the Girl Guides and Scouts had played during both Wars.

Scouts and Guides had only being going on a few years at the start of World War 1.

It’s not a strictly WW1 book. It begins there, but there is far more shared about the second world war – with Girlguiding members in occupied countries being tracked down and sent to concentration camps, the banning of Guiding and Scouting in many countries forcing them to meet in secret, and even tales of Guide units being set up in Prisoner of War camps in Asia. Either way, it was inspiring and enlightening to read.

Our units participate in services of remembrance each year to remember our sisters who went before us, and to especially remember the many, many men, women and children who have lost their lives prematurely due to war.

I recommend checking out Janie’s book, and if you want to find out about how needlework and Guiding combined to help send messages to loved ones through Changi Prison, you can see one of the quilts in the Imperial War Museum in London.