Because ‘We’re Worth it!’

Girls everywhere know this, after years of being silkily informed by L’Oreal models with big eyed honesty and flicks of glossy manes. An empowering phrase and a fun one, not to mention a staggeringly commercially effective one. But as we absorb the ‘news’ offered last week in The Telegraph, The Times and elsewhere that girls are twice as likely to worry about their appearance as boys I wonder what ‘worth’ our teen girls have accepted?

Fewer than 7 out of 10 girls reported being happy with their body. This barely felt like news. Surely we all know that girls have been hard wired to think more about their appearance since Snow White’s mirror? But a knee-jerk ‘Durr…!’ must not be our only response. What this says about the confidence and self esteem of 21st Century young women is what matters here.

Of course those of us lucky enough to be working in single sex girls’ schools are protected from some of the more egregious manifestations of this kind of self-consciousness and body-anxiety. One of the rather delightful things that struck me as newbie to our wonderful Sixth Form common room, was not just the extraordinary towers of cushions, the ‘banter’ wall, or the gales of laughter emanating from the room, but also the number of our Sixth Form girls choosing not to wear make up. A regular make-up wearer myself, I have no objection to make up, but it is refreshing to be amongst girls unselfconscious enough to go about the day to day business of learning, without permanent recourse to the mascara wand and mirror. These are girls who are resourceful, fun and take themselves seriously and have no need to hide behind a raft of L’Oreal cosmetics on a daily basis. I know from first hand experience that the situation in mixed Sixth Forms can be very different.

Rhian Kavanagh from e-skills UK’s Cyber Security Schools’ Outreach programme reminded us in assembly last week of the forces preying on girls’ body-anxiety and attacking self esteem. The mirror on the wall, has become the thousands of mirrors online reflecting mercilessly all over the web. It’s self-consciousness-raising stuff! Can we really be surprised that girls are anxious about the way they look when trolls attack women for having long hair (think Mary Beard), or hack private accounts to publish private photos? The web we want she reminded us is one that allows girls to be the best versions of themselves; confident, clear and free from frets about their body or fears of online bullying.

One of our jobs as educators of modern young women is to ensure that girls take themselves seriously and learn to measure their value properly. We need to work against the depressing body consciousness attendant on endless public scrutiny and grow instead a self esteem built around character and our girls’ moral and intellectual values…..‘Because they’re worth it’!

 

Jenny Brown, Headmistress, St Albans High School for Girls

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