The #GirlsAreAmazing campaign has launched to promote positive role models, expand ambitions and boost self-esteem in young girls. The campaign is part of a celebration of Girl Talk's 500th issue (on sale 26 March 2014). We spoke to Editor Bea Appleby to hear all about it...
What is the aim of the #GirlsAreAmazing Girl Talk campaign?
We want to encourage girls to achieve great things and break away from limiting and old-fashioned beliefs about what girls can do. We’re making a pledge to include more editorial about inspiring women, confidence building challenges, opinion pieces from readers, as well as profiling a variety of careers and role models.
How are you spreading the word?
In every issue of Girl Talk we are running a regular feature all about amazing girls, career profiles, girls around the world and a section for readers to write in about something they’re passionate about. We have also sent campaign T-shirts out to influential women and asked them to wear them with pride on our launch date!
What have you found out about the role models that girls currently look up to?
We ran a survey in January and found that the women they most admire are Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Jessie J. With the exception of the writer, Jacqueline Wilson, the Top 10 celebrities were all singers or actors. Sportswomen, politicians and businesswomen barely registered on the list. The answers were quite predictable, but it made us think that we really should be showing readers a wider range of women to look up to, especially those who have achieved great things that aren’t based on their looks.
How do you think we, as adults and parents, can encourage children to cultivate a positive body image?
Certainly from our research, girls want to be thought of as pretty and care about their appearance even as young pre-teens. There is a difference between boys and girls in this respect, which I find quite sad. Obviously telling your child that they are lovely just as they are is great, but equally important is taking the emphasis off physical appearance. If we repeatedly tell our daughters that this looks pretty, that person is beautiful, that person is fat, this person is thin, there is just too much noise about how we look and girls can’t help but see this is as the key to their worth.
To what extent do you think a child’s friends and peers’ opinions contribute to a child’s ambitions and self esteem?
I think they contribute a lot. There are still jobs that are perceived as for boys or jobs for girls. Girls talk in the playground about being pop stars, actors and dancers, not sports stars or engineers. In our survey, more than a third of girls aspired to jobs in showbiz and their top 10 careers were either caring, artistic or performing – and all in roles traditionally thought of as feminine. And in the same survey 80% of girls wanted to be referred to as “pretty”, “kind” and “funny”, with only 20% choosing “clever”, “strong” or “brave” as important attributes. The character traits they didn’t choose are more associated with boys and I think that’s perpetuated by peers and parents – girls seem to be encouraged to be polite, kind and good, in a way that boys aren’t.
How do you think we can help to boost our daughters' self-esteem?
What came out in our research is a need to be given reassurance that they can achieve. They want to hear a lot of “You can do it!” I would say less picking on how they look and urging them to be perfect would help. Accepting girls for who they are and not comparing them to others is important. There is far too much emphasis on having neatly brushed hair, standing up straight or sitting in a lady-like manner. Boys just don’t have to get bogged down in that and I don’t think that’s fair. When I talk to girls there is often a feeling that boys are freer than they are. Girls want to be good and to get things right, but for them this often means abandoning risk taking and innovation.
What kind of role models do you think we should be encouraging our children to look up to?
I think that the main idea for us is a wide range. To make sure that they know about people who have achieved things through hard work and dedication, not because they’re attractive or born into a rich family. For girls, it's important to see women who aren’t perfectly preened and just trading off their looks.
What would be your top three tips for helping girls to realise their full potential, away from the world of celebrities?
1. Take the focus off appearance.
2. Introduce them to activities that aren’t traditionally for girls – they may have hidden talents.
3.Encourage them to realise their own strength and know that if they harness it and work hard they can achieve great things. Anything is possible!
How about boys; could we use the same positive body image messages to support them too?
I think that there is a lot of work to be done with boys and the problems of aspiring to hyper-masculinity, big muscles, acting tough and not showing weakness. There’s a growing feeling that this is the next step in gender equality and I totally agree. There’s a actually an interesting documentary film coming out about this called The Mask You Live In.
The #girlsareamazing campaign will be running throughout the year, starting from 26 March 2014 with features appearing in every issue of Girl Talk magazine. Visit the Girl Talk website for competitions to enter and conversations to join in with.
Pre-teen girls can send their personal amazing stories, of their own positive role models and thoughts on being a girl growing up in a modern world, to: Girls Are Amazing, Girl Talk magazine, Immediate Media, 44 Brook Green, London W6 7BT. Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org