Over the weekend I was in the pub with a group of girlfriends and the conversation drifted to hair products for curly hair. It brought to mind my awkward teenage self, ridiculed by my peers for my unmanageable bushy hair, and all of a sudden I felt unattractive and apprehensive.
For me, that group was what every teenager needs – a safe place, with trusted adults, where I could goof around and I knew I belonged. But what was lacking was any specific input to help me navigate being a girl. I would have loved a space to ask questions about beauty products, periods and relationships, rather than entering adult life assuming that I was the only one who didn’t know the answers. We attended a summer festival every year where I lapped up talks on valuing myself, on romance, on pursuing my dreams. But throughout the rest of the year I was left to figure things out myself.
At XLP we run all sorts of specific support for girls year round. From schools workshops, trips and activities, to our girls only gym session and our summer Girls Week packed full of fun, glamour and inspiration - we want our girls to rise up, heads held high. Just like me at their age, the girls we work with in London are creating formative friendships, working out their futures, and worrying about fashion faux pas. But, unlike me, they are also carrying the burden of an increasingly pressurised education system, the ongoing repercussions of the pandemic, attacks on their self-image from social media, the popularity of misogynistic online influencers…
If you have girls in your youth group, I would encourage you to be intentional about the support you give them. Being aware of girls needs should infuse you youth work, from making sure there are sanitary towels in your toilets to calling out the language your groups use (try using “step up” rather than “man up” etc). But more than that, we need to give girls space to breath. We need to give them a space to challenge the messages they are absorbing and explore alternative ideas. A space for deep conversations, light hearted chats and the safety to ask awkward questions. A space where they are told they are wonderful.
"A space where they are
told they are wonderful."
My challenge for you on International Women’s Day 2023 is this: are you creating safe, honest spaces for the girls coming up behind us? Girls work does not mean you have to put on trendy, inventive workshops if you don’t have the resources. Don’t underestimate the simple power of a listening ear and sharing stories. A summer camp or weekend away might be a great place for your girls to access additional inspiration, but it’s the weekly relationships that will see them thrive. At its heart, that’s what girls work is.
Lydia is the Volunteers and Mentoring Manager at XLP