Girlguiding UK call for 'healthy role models' for girls

Guest Blogger
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4 Jul 2012

Guest blogger Lucy Lawrenson is a member of Girlguiding UK’s Advocate! panel, which allows members to explore their interests in advocacy, policy and campaigns.

One of the key findings of Girlguiding UK's recent research into the views of girls and young women in Britain is that, in 2012, the need for positive role models is as prevalent as ever. In fact, there's room to argue that the need for inspirational figures has grown in recent times - with programmes such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Only Way is Essex actively promoting promiscuity, excessive drinking, and perhaps even unhealthy or meaningless relationships, it is not difficult to see why so many young girls struggle to understand exactly who they are and what they want.

Indeed, our findings tells us that girls and young women currently have a narrow range of role models to look up to, which can lead to limited aspirations, whether it’s in their careers, their relationships, or how they view their bodies. 

As the UK’s largest voluntary organisation for girls and young women, Girlguiding UK is always seeking their opinions in order to provide opportunities that broaden their horizons and help them to reach their potential in whichever path they choose. As such, as an organisation we feel extremely strongly about the issue of respectable, healthy role models for the female youth of today, and the lack thereof.

In order to help us understand the issue better, Girlguiding UK has conducted thorough research into the importance of role models. Our findings tell us that, for the most part, they are important for providing what can only be described as a shining light during difficult times - perhaps they can be viewed as older sisters, as sources of experience whose behaviour can provide help for young girls in reaching their own goals. In this way, role models are particularly important during transitional periods, such as when girls are making the leap from primary to secondary school, experiencing their first relationships, and so on.

The notion that the young women filling up our TV screens and magazine covers might be able to help with all this is augmented by their closeness in age - they are seen as being able to empathise or provide help for the reason that they are likely to have been through similar experiences in the recent past.

But the danger is that many celebrities are at a different stage in their lives to the girls who try to emulate them. Moreover, young girls know little about the reality of their lives, so their behaviour is seen without context and appears free from consequences. Often the women who are represented in popular culture, both through the musical industry (Nicki Minaj springs to mind)  and through television (Kim Kardashian, Frankie Essex, etc.) tend to take no issue in exhibiting decidedly mature, adult behaviour on the shows, such as explicitly discussing sex and consuming large amounts of alcohol, which often leads to irresponsible behaviour.

The result is the normalisation of sexual relationships in Year 10, for example, becomes as acceptable as the aspiration to become a pop star or be on television. Frankly, with limited alternatives to turn to, girls have no real option other than to be influenced by these women, and in doing so grow up too soon and perhaps not in the way they would ideally like to.

This underlines why it is so important that girls and young women have a broad range of positive role models and why Girlguiding UK works so hard to offer girls a safe space to explore their own identities and grow in self-esteem.

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