It’s OK to be yourself!

Free Being Me is a programme designed to help young people aged between seven and 14 to learn the important lessons around body image and self-esteem. It was launched by the Dove Self-Esteem Project in partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).

Irish Girl Guides (IGG) has taken a huge interest over the past number of years and it has been successfully rolled out in dozens of their Units nationwide. Full training is available to all Leaders to allow them to effectively deliver the Free Being Me message.

Helen Hartnett is a Brownie and Guide Leader in the Kildare area, and has successfully delivered the programme to girls aged seven to 10 and 11 to 14. When I asked her about the programme she told me that while there were differences in the content for both age groups, the message of body confidence was central to both: getting girls to focus on their bodies and develop their own self-esteem regardless of make, shape or colour.

When Helen initially began delivering the Free Being Me programme she says “It was surprising how informed the ‘vision of beauty’ was, even in girls of a young age.” She explained to me that in one particular exercise with Brownies (seven to 10 years old) they were asked to draw a picture of a princess. In 99% of the cases the images produced were identical – blonde hair, blue eyes, clear skin, small waists and so on.

In another exercise with the Guide group (11 to 14 years old) the girls were shown a series of pictures before and after they had been photoshopped.

 “In all instances the girls agreed that the altered image was better. It was as if recognising the image myth wasn’t enough to deter the girls from feeling the need to comply with it. We’re just trying to get the girls to understand that conforming to stereotypes isn’t always in their own best interests, that it’s OK to just be yourself.”

She continued by telling me that, as a Leader, projects like this gave her a clearer understanding of the image issues affecting young girls as well as the skills to talk about them with young people.

As a Mum, it has allowed me to open channels of discussion with my own daughters. It’s been an eye opener in so many ways

In order to explore the idea of body confidence and self-esteem further, Helen told me that the girls work on projects exploring similarities and differences between themselves.

Through the course of their work the girls are encouraged to understand that differences in appearance don’t make your friends like you any less.

The point is,” explains Helen, “that we don’t all have to be the same to be beautiful.

To conclude, Helen told me that Free Being Me is bigger than IGG and indeed WAGGGS. “The girls also have a chance to spread the word in their communities. Through the ‘Take Action’ part of the programme the girls are encouraged to tell others in their communities about what they’ve learned.”

And with over 10,000,000 members worldwide, from Sudan to Japan and America to Australia, the potential for Free Being Me to help change people’s body attitudes is enormous.

In IGG we are striving to shape the leaders of tomorrow; our tagline is ‘giving girls confidence’ and body confidence is as good a place as any to start.”

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