I think we’d all agree that the pressure on girls today is absolutely HUGE. As a mother to a daughter, raising a strong daughter in today’s society is something I have worried about endlessly….and she is only seven! But we have to face up the fact that worries and body-image pressure weigh down heavily on girls from a shockingly young age, and sit on their shoulders all the way as they grow up, through teens and beyond.
So what exactly is going on here? And how can we stop this negative cycle of events? I’m delighted to introduce Lulu Wood – writer from London and author of ‘Milkshakes For The Almost Dead’ (out now in paperback and e-book on amazon.co.uk) to share her thoughts.
I remember the day my breasts came in. It was my final term of primary school. We were playing run-outs in the big field behind the maths block, and it was hot, definitely a ‘no-vest-day’, and our standard issue grey cardigans and jumpers had been discarded by the fence. I was a fast runner, then. I was chubbier that most of the other girls, but I was good at sport, and very good at run-outs.
That day, I made my usual sprint for home, dodging and accelerating. But then, twenty feet from the wall, Adam Pooley suddenly shouted to everyone: ‘Look at Keano’s tits!’. I stopped in my tracks, like I’d been punched in the throat, and glanced down at my shirt. There, bouncing about through the thin white cotton were two very noticeable and slightly sweaty boobs. Everybody laughed. I was mortified. Then I got tagged. And so it began… My G-cups have been entering rooms before me ever since, and don’t I know it.
The early objectification of girls
I thought a lot about the early objectification of girls as I was writing my new book, Milkshakes For The Almost Dead, because the heroines are two teenage girls, and western teenage girls lives are more traumatic than ever (a big self-aware nod here to the fact that in other societies, other countries, the trauma for girls who are sold and married at the age of 8, or shot at for wanting to go to school, is a whole different level of awful).
But, in the UK, the statistics for the damage being done to our daughters is damning. Nearly a quarter of 14-year-old girls in the UK reported self-harming themselves in 2018. 8% of women are deemed to have had bulimia at some point in their life, beginning at around the age of 16, and being actively social does hurt: a recent study showed that, ‘More frequent Facebook use was associated with greater disordered eating in a cross-sectional survey.’
Girls are much more likely than boys to be bullied at school, with almost twice as many on the receiving end of cyberbullying and social exclusion by other pupils, according to a government study.
A little respect
So, as I wrote my book about two teenage best friends taking on the world, I had to ask myself a painful question: Why, at around the age of 12, when girls stop being kids and cute and worthy of our protection, do we just stop respecting them, and their choices, and their bodies, and their feelings?
Because this phenomenon starts in what seems, at first, to be the most trivial ways. I remember my mum laughing at me as I watched the Take That Pray video for the 100th time on MTV, waiting for the epic moment that Robbie stands under THAT waterfall. It made me feel ridiculous for loving it, and what that taught me, at an early age, was that my teenage girl-lust was silly, and shameful, and unimportant.
Is our problem with teenage girls that they are just swimming in feelings, and we don’t like big displays of emotion? Newsflash: these aren’t our rules. We didn’t invent them, and they are literally killing us.
When we allow our girls to be the side-line or the punchline, we show our own complicity with a machine that we did not build, and a criteria that we continue to apply to ourselves whether we acknowledge it or not: our weight, our popularity with other women, our attractiveness, our sexiness, the clarity of our skin, the shininess of our hair. These aren’t badges of honour, they are binds, and we can start to break them, if we choose.
Time to make change
How do we start raising a strong daughter in today’s society? Here are five top tips to changing society for the greater good of our daughters:
- Proactively protect our girls from a society that wants to sexualise them before it’s even legal for them to have sex, by not playing along. Remember the Charlotte Church media countdown to turning 16? Funny right, hahahah? Wrong. Don’t say ‘it’s just a bit of fun.’ It isn’t.
- Be a voice and a presence in your home that is just as noisy as the influence of all those avatars on the internet who show them, daily, how to starve themselves, cut themselves, change themselves, kill themselves.
- Celebrate the things that they love, whatever they are in to. Love them WITH them. Definitely show them the Take That ‘Pray’ video.
- Stop saying, ‘I know it’s silly’, before you talk about something you love. BIN the phrase ‘guilty pleasure.’
- And this is the biggest thing: show girls what supporting each other really looks like. Show them women don’t need to make enemies to make friends.
- Finally, PLEASE tell them to try to change this game that their mothers have been playing their whole lives and didn’t know how to stop. The real girl power comes from them, and us.
I think you’ll agree that’s quite a wake-up call and some powerful words on raising a strong daughter in today’s society where the objectification of girls is rife. But with a bit of awareness, we parents can help break that toxic cycle of events. I’m ready to do it – are you?
Lulu Wood is an established British author, who has made her impact in the publishing industry by dealing with issues such as weight and extreme weight loss, women and ageing, relationships deconstructed and mental health. She is cultural commentator, focused feminist and mother. ‘Milkshakes For The Almost Dead’ is out now in paperback and e-book on amazon.co.uk. A percentage of the sales from Milkshakes for the Almost Dead will support Plan International UK, which works to advance child rights and equality for girls across the world.