Growing up in the Yorkshire Dales in the Eighties, there wasn’t much in the way of planned after-school activities for children.
Not one for ‘playing out’, I tended to mooch about at home. But there’s only so much Dallas you can watch. Only so many times you can listen to Careless Whisper by George Michael. And only once could you pour your mum’s entire bottle of bubbles into the bath and smear red lipstick all over your face in a bid to emulate the grooming routine of Jackie Collins.
So – short of choice, and despite my mum’s misgivings – I joined the Brownies. The terminally uncool yellow-and-brown colour combo of the uniform seemed to chime with my bowl-cut hairdo. More importantly, I yearned to be part of a gang of adventurous girls.
Sadly, I found the experience of being a Brownie more akin to ‘domestic drudge’ than ‘girl-gang adventurer’. I balked at the kind of brown-nosing expected by Brown Owl, and found myself at odds with the requirement to pledge allegiance to God and the Queen. A precocious and bolshy child with unreasonably strong opinions (some things never change...), I already had myself pegged as an atheist and a republican by the age of seven. It wasn’t long before I’d dib-dib-dibbed my way out of the dob-dob-door. Before my hasty departure, however, I did gain a badge or two – but the activities required to reach this pinnacle of achievement struck me as highly questionable. One involved sweeping the floor, one required the ability to serve refreshments, and another necessitated sewing on a button. By the time we’d finished gaining all the requisite ‘skills’, the Brownie hut looked very spic and span indeed, Brown Owl had been served as many cups of tea as any woman could possibly wish for – and the buttons on her overcoat displayed some pretty immaculate back-stitching.
But 30 years later, it seems things have changed for the better down at the Brownie hut.
Last week Girlguiding UK launched a new badge for Brownies and Guides as part of its Body Confidence campaign. The ‘Free Being Me’ badge has been developed in the light of Girlguiding UK’s attitudes survey, released last year.
The survey, which involved more than 1,280 girls, aged 7-21, revealed some shocking truths about growing up in our socially-networked, image-obsessed society. Pressure to adhere to an unrealistic body image affected girls across the age spectrum, with 1 in 5 primary pupils reporting they had been on a diet. Of the 11-21-year-old age group, 71pc said they wanted to lose weight, 38pc had skipped meals because they were unhappy with their body image, while 75pc agreed that they felt pressure to look like women in magazines.
It was with these shocking statistics in mind that Girlguiding UK developed Body Confidence. Girls gain their ‘Free Being Me’ badge after two sessions that challenge preconceived ideas about body image and encourage them to feel comfortable in their own skin. The Body Confidence programme unmasks beauty myths, enables girls to recognise when air-brushing has been used in photographs of celebrities and models, and encourages participants to accept and celebrate their bodies. Girls are also encouraged to find self-esteem boosting news stories and share them via video, social networks and blogs.
While the context for the Body Confidence initiative may be concerning, it’s heartening that girls’ experiences of Brownies and Guides have changed so much since my childhood. The chief executive of Girlguiding UK has even gone so far as to call it the ‘ultimate feminist organisation.’
My seven-year-old self would approve.