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Girlguiding UK and the ‘TOWIE’ generation

18 June 2012

Brace yourself; and think back to your teenage years. For most this recollection brings a bitter sweet mix, a longing for ‘good old days’, swiftly followed by a large involuntary shudder at the rollercoaster of emotions, changing friendship groups and knocks to your fragile self esteem.

Being a teenager in the 90s was one thing, but I can’t imagine being a teenager now, navigating through a tangled political world of Facebook friends, judged on your most recent profile picture. A picture which, of course, must fill the peer expectations to look like a movie star 24/7; perfect make-up, glossy ‘Kate’ hair, waxed and plucked to the nines.

Why? Because that’s what Rhianna, Cheryl Cole and The TOWIE girls do – and according to a qualitative report we launched this May by Girlguiding UK, they are the current top role models for teenage girls. And this is having a negative impact on the girl’s career aspirations and self esteem.

The Girlguiding UK report Girls’ Attitudes Explored… Role Models uncovered a real role model deficit among girls and young women. It revealed a link to issues with self esteem and a limited range of aspirations for their futures – with most girls only aspiring to be singers or actresses, viewing a huge range of careers as ‘jobs for boys’.

Television shows like Jersey Shore and Skins were shown to be hugely influential in informing girls’ view of relationships with boys and their own behaviour, with many of these programmes  glamorising promiscuous sex and normalising drink and drug use amongst young girls. A real worry was the trend of ‘playing dumb’ and hiding their intelligence in class, for fears it would make them less popular.

In May, Forster helped structure and shape the research and findings and put out a story to the national press, highlighting the fact that girls in the Girlguiding UK programme have higher confidence and belief in their own abilities and ambitious and more diverse career aspirations, in part due to the positive role models found in Guiding leaders and alumni.

This coverage set the news agenda, even with Rebekah Brooks at the Levenson enquiry dominating the news. A live discussion on BBC 5Live with Girlguiding UK and the producer of TOWIE kicked off the debate, with subsequent broadcast coverage on BBC TV, Channel 5 News, extensive regional radio and print features and news coverage in most of the national and London media, including The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Independent and the Metro – all of which positioned Girlguiding UK as an important part of the solution to an escalating problem.

It’s a debate that is not going away, but girls deserve better and we are working to keep it on the agenda.