When I did P.E. in school it was a requirement that we all had to shower post exercise. I’m pretty sure that we were not the only group of school girls who had to do this. We were fortunate as we had individual cubicles in which to shower in with curtains for a privacy which is more then our male counterparts had! The deal was this:
If you were on your period you were excused from showering. A little ‘P’ was marked next to your name in the register. This is odd looking back, like our periods made us all witches where we would burn if water was thrown on us. Like our periods made us unwashable or informed in some way. (This belongs in a different blog I think.)
If you were not on your period, you got down to your knickers and bra, pulled your bra straps off your shoulders and wrapped your towel around you. You would then walk into the shower. Splash some water on your upper body, walk out and then be ticked off as washing. We all did this. Without exception. We weren’t challenged to shower properly, even though it must have been really obvious to the female staff that checked us off. After we showered we dosed ourselves with Charlie Red or Impulse.
This was 15 plus years ago, before the internet had really made its mark on us all and certainly before the days of social media. Even then, we were ashamed of our bodies not wanting to reveal them to each other for fear of being found lacking.
Last week I shared this video in response to the Children’s society’s report that revealed that 1 in 3 girls aged between 10 and 14 felt worthless based on their appearance.
It triggered an anger in me that compelled me to write and deliver that piece within a day. How, for all the vast leaps that we have achieved in our culture, are we still sending a message to young girls that how they look is the defining thing about them.
I wanted to place images in the video that were linked to the words being spoken. I decided to type words into google images to use the results. Here are some of the things I discovered….
If you type in Girls you get this page….
When you type lips:
And so on…
- Typing eyes
And so on…
- Typing Hair
And so on….
- Typing Legs
Sobering stuff. None of these images are less then what we would class as perfect. These legs are long, smooth, tanned and exact. They don’t represent that majority of the world’s legs, they represent a very particular group of women’s legs. The eyes have all got make up on, as natural as they are being made to look. The lips are also perfectly shaped, have lipstick on them and are mostly fairly seductive. The hair is all thick and voluminous. Its shiny and smooth. I have never seen hair like this on a real person in the flesh in front of me. What’s more concerning is that I didn’t add the prefix of ‘girl’s’ to legs, hair, eyes and lips. Yet all the images that came up are of young women. While I can’t gurantee the ethnicity of all of these models, I think it is fair to say they are predominantly white women.
It is images that are being broadcasted all the time to our young women and girls. When you look at these images they mostly seem like incredibly striking women and its easy to see why we would all like to look like them.
We need to make moves to fight these images and getting these girls more body positive. Schools and communities need to be taking responsibilities and tackling this issue head on. The message being sent out is that if their bodies fit into a certain criteria then they are more desirable. Girls are seeing this and hearing this. Along with the ‘perfect’ bodies that are being projected at them, no wonder their self esteem is worryingly low. Malala Yousafzai puts it well “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
We, as a society, are holding girls back by placing their value in how they look over what they can achieve.
So what can we do?
1. Compliment a girls character, not her appearance. What’s she good at? what’s she overcome recently? What has she been working on? What does she like to read? Take her to things. spend time learning about what she would like to do.
2. Get writing to you M.P asking for it to be compulsory to teach sex education, mental health and body image in every single school. www.writetothem.com is a great inline tool for finding your local MP and writing to them.
3. Limit time on the internet. I spoke to a teacher recently who said that the girls she taught were looking very tired. when she spoke to their parents, they would say ‘She’s up all night on her phone’. Make some rules about where and when to use the phone. Maybe the whole family can implement a system of putting all their phones on charge in the kitchen for the night? Not having devices out at the dinner table? Is your daughter old enough to be using social media? Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube and Instagram say users need to be over 13. The problem is its pretty impossible for these companies to enforce these rules, and for a parent. We must understand however that when we arm our daughters with a phone or device we are giving them access to a world of information that we might not feel comfortable looking at.
4.Call people out for making jokes or insulting comments at the expense of someone’s appearance. We’ve all heard these off the cuff remarks about the way someone looks and felt the feeling that we should just laugh it off. However we are sending a message out that this behaviour is appropriate at best and at worst, funny.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk