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Can We Stop Telling Girls They Need Cheerleaders?

01/08/2016 11:37 | Updated 01 August 2016

I recently read something from The Girls Trust which was a good piece about girls not achieving in the workplace; however there was one piece in it that drove me mad.

The head of the Girls School Trust Helen Fraser said, "Too many women are letting their Inner Critic stop them from succeeding in life." Fair enough, I get it, but she then went on to say, "Girls should learn to challenge their inner critic with an inner cheerleader."

That was the piece that got me all hot under the collar.

I know in essence it looks like it makes sense; when your inner critic comes out to play just cheerleader it away, sounds like good advice, except it isn't. This belief that the way to get through things is to ignore the doubts, worries and fears, get some pom-poms and do an I Love You dance seems like absolute claptrap to me. Is this just part of us trying to protect our children, so much that we think even feeling negative thoughts is something that may harm them?

This is what I call Instagram Coaching; you know, a girl posts a picture wanting reinforcement so she can feel better about herself, and her friends reply with lots of fake love hearts and over use of the word babe and we think everything is all right! It's not.

I was at a school the other day talking about body image as a part of the work on my new novel. There was this one girl at the back who was brave enough to put her hand up. She looked at me and said, "I hate my body". I told her that I really felt for her, she looked at me, I went over to her, sat next to her and asked if she had thought about what she could do about it. She thought and started to tell me about how her family are always telling her she is fat (she was actually very slim) and the whole story of her deep-seated issues came out.

Her friend next to her started shifting uncomfortably in her seat, clearly finding this conversation difficult. It continued a little and I looked into her eyes and said, "You know you are OK, don't you?" She paused, smiled with tears in her eyes and said yes. Her friend who had been dying to get a word in edgeways for a while piped up, "Miss, aren't you going to tell her she is not fat, I mean look she has a great curvy body; most people would love her body".

I looked at her friend and said that the only people who don't want a curvy body are the ones that have one. Now irate, she said, "You can't say that, you need to make her feel better, you need to tell her she looks great, that's what I do". I asked her how long she had been doing that; she told me that it was all the time she had known her. I asked if her friend felt better yet; "Well no..., " she replied. I left the conversation as it was.

At the end of the lesson the girl who hated her body came up to me and said thank you. The look in her eyes showed me she really meant it.

And here is my point; when we just cheerlead ourselves or another and just try to make ourselves feel better, afraid to sit with uncomfortable feelings, we can never really get through anything.

To get through something we first need to feel heard and I mean really heard. The answer to the inner citric is not to cheer lead it out of existence.

The answer to the inner critic is to hear it, challenge it and then find a new alternative way of thinking. If you run to the third part too quickly you will never really hear or heal what is going on.

In our attempt to protect our children we are trying to ensure they never feel down or sad and actually feeling down or sad is part of life.

We can never get through something by ignoring it. Feeling unhappy, sad and less than is often part of the journey we need to take in life and if we keep bringing out the cheerleader at every opportune moment, our young girls will grown up unable to deal with anything real unless they have pom-poms and a frilly skirt. Is that really what we want for them?

I personally want my daughters to experience all of life and my thousands of coaching hours has taught me that dealing with fear is far more important than being cheered up.

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