RECLAIM Manchester is a leadership and mentoring programme working with young people from disadvantaged communities in Greater Manchester.
It is soon to launch a girls’ programme focussed on issues surrounding body image, valuing yourself for more than how you look, identifying positive role models and raising the girls’ collective confidence. I asked Project Manager Melissa a few questions about the issues young girls face today…
What do you think the main pressures on young girls to look a certain way are today?
There are a lot of pressures in the media, on TV and amongst peers for girls to look at certain way. There is no escaping images that the media view as beautiful and girls are led to believe that if they look that way they will succeed.
Do you think girls are taught to value their looks above all else – or is this a media-led concept?
It is largely media led concept but it is also something that women often put on each other. Magazines print pictures of women slating their bodies or looks giving the impression to readers that if you look this way you are unattractive. In turn women put down each other to hide insecurities when in fact women should be supporting girls and encouraging them to love who they are.
Do you think the supposed sexualisation of girls within the media is a true representation of the girls themselves?
I think the media focus on what they think will interest readers. What needs to be looked at is the reasons as to why girls are becoming more sexualised and then the root of the problem can be dealt with. It’s not untrue that underage sex, teenage pregnancy and girls look a lot older than their age is occurring however from experience working with teenage girls it is clear there are more issues surrounding these concerns.
Do you think issues such as girls feeling pressured to lighten/darken their skin takes a back seat in lieu of more fashionable issues, such as the sexualisation of young girls?
I think lightening and darkening skin plays a part in fashionable issues. It is a part of wanting to be more sexualised, their appearance and showing their skin however it is not talked about. It is an underlying cultural issue and some people are not aware of the extent of it.
What pressures do you feel young girls face today that is not, perhaps, being reported in the press?
From experience working with teenage girls there are pressures within the home such as being a carer for parents or siblings and not being able to enjoy your childhood and be a kid. The girls we work with on RECLAIM have said they to “stay kids, feel joy and stay positive”. They come from pressurised communities with responsibilities at home and feel the need to grow up too fast. We have worked with girls who have low literacy skills but are too embarrassed to tell anyone and instead vent their frustration in negative ways. We also have worked with girls who are painfully shy and have no self confidence who struggle to fit in a school and amongst their peers. All these pressures can lead to negative outcomes.
Do you feel there is a lack of positive female role models?
There isn’t a lack of positive female role models however there is a lack of positive female role models being portrayed to girls. Girls look aspire to be like Cheryl Cole and Katie Price who are famous for their looks and have had short cuts to success. Girls need to be supported and inspired by real women they come into contact with in their communities, schools and the cities they live in. Girls need role models who have worked hard to achieve and who girls can relate to.
What do you think could be done to improve young girls’ self-confidence?
I think girls need to be encouraged and supported by other women. Events bringing women and girls together, workshops building self confidence and self esteem. Presenting inspirational role models to girls who they can look up to and learn from. Raising aspirations of young women and helping them recognise their talents and full potential so they can achieve positive things in life.