Calling All Girls, You Are Extraordinary!

I could create a multitude of Brownie badges for encouragement, write lines upon lines to raise awareness and shout from every rooftop about this report. But I need to hand the microphone over, turn the spotlight round and let this remarkable young woman's words fill you up.

I wrote this about the Godfrey theory back in 2014, but little did I know I would have to be explaining it to 7 year olds...

"The Godfrey theory suggests that woman were bombarded with beauty campaigns in the 50's in order to preoccupy themselves with their looks so that they didn't take men's jobs post war. This may seem a little extreme, but woman in jobs are still judged more on their looks than men, and if power is at ALL measured by beauty (even if it is just a contributing factor) it still leaves us very very vulnerable. If a man and woman were selling you insurance in the same office by the same company and the man is ruddy faced and bursting out his creased shirt, he's 'obviously so busy with work he doesn't have time' but his female counterpart would possibly be deemed disorganised and unable to juggle her priorities. "

On reading the new survey from Girlguiding (Girls' Attitudes Survey 2016) my heart sank into my dizzying tummy, but on speaking to Sophie 19, who is a member of Girlguiding's Advocate panel, it swelled up and leapt out my chest and is now thumping away on my keyboard singing "Sisters are doing it for themselves".

A third (36%) of 7-10 year old girls say people make them think that the most important thing about them is how they look. How did we get to this? Not even just wanting the latest crop tops or glittery mascaras, they're actually striving for the black hole that is 'perfection' (the survey shows a quarter of girls aged 7-10 feel they need to be perfect), the gaping hole where, in 10 years time lip fillers, Botox, kilograms of hair extensions and layers of foundation and Instagram filters fall.

I could create a multitude of Brownie badges for encouragement, write lines upon lines to raise awareness and shout from every rooftop about this report. But I need to hand the microphone over, turn the spotlight round and let this remarkable young woman's words fill you up.

What do you believe "perfect" to be? Is this the same as the 7-10 year olds?

I believe that the concept of "perfect" is different depending on how you view yourself. For me, perfect is being able to do what I want and get what I want from my life without anyone stopping me and saying, "You can't because you're a girl". Perfect is being able to wear what I want and put makeup on if I want and not to impress someone. Also, I believe perfect is a when you can look in the mirror and be confident enough to share with the world the version of you who looks back, whoever that person is. While I wish that all girls shared my views, I worry this may not be the case. One shocking statistic that the Girls' Attitudes Survey revealed was that a quarter (23%) of girls aged 7 to 10 feel they need to be perfect. This is sad because perfection is different for everyone; what may make one girl look in the mirror and think "I am perfect" may be different to another. This is where the image myths floating around in the media can be most problematic as it can lead girls to have a false view of perfection.

Who do you think the girls feel the most pressure from? Boys? Media? Or other girls?

I think they receive a three-pronged attack from all and each side can differ in their strength over years, weeks, days and so on. Boys and the views that are fed to them of what a woman should look like can be a big problem in girls' lives as they may feel pressured to change who they are, which is sad and wrong.

Other girls can also have a similar effect, judging themselves and then comparing themselves to other girls. This can cause pressure in girls at a time when they are starting to form their own identities and figure out where they fit in the world.

However, the media is one of the biggest culprits in my view, ramping up the pressure on not just 7-10 year olds but girls of all age groups and young women. From promoting the image myth to using celebrity culture to give out a false and often unobtainable view of "perfection" they are putting enormous pressure on girls. This can lead to low self- esteem, but can also lead to all sorts of much darker problems in later years. I think it's fair to say that girls probably feel the most pressure from the media as it tends to be the driving force behind the other two pressures as well.

Are you starting to see a change in how they look compared to say, 5 years ago?

If I think about myself in the past five years, I went from being make-up free to wearing makeup, as did a lot of my friends. In my case I started wearing it because I wanted to, but I can see just how girls and young women may be pressured into wearing it. Girls' looks have changed a lot in the last five years, not just fashion but all aspects - now we are expected to reveal our super-flat stomachs under skimpy clothing. The only reason a girl's look should change in five years is if she wants it to change, and not because she feels pressured to change because of society demands it.

Do you get the feeling there's an attitude of the prettier they are the more/popular successful they'll be?

Sadly I believe there is. The Girls' Attitudes Survey showed that one in three (35%) 7 to 10 year old girls agree women are judged more on their appearance than their ability. It is the saddest mark of a society when the future lawyers, doctors, politicians, leaders feel that they are more likely to get a job because of how they look rather than what's in their brains. The survey also showed that a third (36%) of 7 to 10 year old girls say people make them think that the most important thing about them is how they look. This again implies that how they look is so important that if they don't look "right" that they won't be able to get anywhere in life.

What's the biggest change you've seen since you were their age?

With the rise of social media and celebrity culture, how a person needs to look in order to be successful has changed so much. Back when I was 9 or 10 years old I had just joined my local Brownie group and I was happy with how life was for me. But now I look at how much pressure girls are under from all sides of society and I do feel sad. Now this obsession with image may have been around then and I might have missed it but I do know it was not as strong as it is today. The most worrying thing is the age; not teenagers, but girls as young as seven. This is not the life that a girl of that age should be leading; they should be enjoying their life.

Is there a difference in the compliments/praise they give each other? Are they more based on aesthetics now?

Probably yes and I think the most poignant evidence for this is that the Girls' Attitudes Survey found that 7 to 10 year old girls say the most important thing to improve their lives now would be to stop judging girls and women on the way they look. For this to become the most important thing to improve their lives definitely implies that they are not only judged on the way they look but also that they get comments aimed at them praise or otherwise that are looks-based.

In my late twenties I've realised compliments on our looks are immediate, easy and can even be life affirming, looking good CAN make you feel great. BUT explaining the nuances and textures of this to a 7 year old is nigh on impossible, not to be patronising by saying they wont understand, but to keep their brains clear and green of the bittersweet nugget of joy that you swallow when someone compliments your looks. How do we explain to them they are not just a sum of their external parts? That, not only their bodies, but their minds are a fascinating world of possibility and strength? With young women like Sophie, hopefully we're on our way.

In the spirit of letting other inspiring women speak I'll leave you with the words of Rupi Kaur...

"I want to apologise to all the women I have called beautiful

before I've called them intelligent or brave

I am sorry I made it sound as though

something as simple as what you're born with

is all you have to be proud of

when you have broken mountains with your wit

from now on I will say things like

you are resilient, or you are extraordinary

not because I don't think you're beautiful

but because I need you to know

you are more than that"

Rupi Kaur