Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Interview: “98% of girls feel pressure to look a certain way”

Founder of the fantastic Festival of the Girl, Abi Wright chats to Book of Beasties about how she is helping shape and brighten the future for young girls.

On October 5th we will be joining the likes of the British Army, Island Girls Rock and The Gender Equality Collective at the brilliant Festival of the Girl.

This brand new event, which is sponsored by The Girls’ Network charity, promotes equality, opportunity, body positivity and mindfulness amongst young girls, in a day jam packed with interactive workshops (like ours), speakers and resources that promote good physical and mental health.

We spoke with co-founder, Abi Wright about the event, what it all means and why an events like this are so important.

Tell us about you

I’m Abi Wright and I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Festival of The Girl. I live in East London with my husband and daughter, Margot and our second child is due in December. As well as the Festival I am Director and Founder of Inspiring Margot.

With Inspiring Margot, as posture and body confidence experts, we're passionate about our mission of standing tall and standing together to create a more equal society for our children. Creating female visibility within society and allowing ALL girls and women to be seen and heard. We're working to help girls and women to have the tools to be confident in who they are and what they want, and to own their space within society.  

I have a background in performance and business from acting experience in New York to being the Executive Assistant to the CEO and Owners of Manchester United Football Club.  

However, female empowerment and wellbeing has always been my passion. I founded Inspiring Margot after my daughter was born on International Women’s Day, 2017. Festival of the Girl was created with other passionate women and mothers wanting to create a different society for their daughters to grow up in.

I’m partial to chocolate and coffee, espresso martinis when not pregnant!

Tell us a bit about Festival of the Girl

Festival of the Girl, a not for profit initiative, has been created so we can surround girls aged 8-12 with inspiring role models and empower them to confidently create a future of equal opportunity, a future where a woman’s worth is not judged by her appearance, a future where they feel safe.  Founded for our daughters. The future is theirs.

Our inaugural event will take place on Saturday 5th October, in celebration of International Day of The Girl, and will be an interactive hub of education, resources and role models.  Through a range of speakers, workshops and activities Festival of The Girl will explore key topics including body positivity, physical and mental health and careers.

Festival of the Girl offers plenty for parents too, with expert led workshops on topics such as emotional literacy and mental health in young people. And plenty of coffee and cake! The event will take place in Tower Hamlets.

Why is Festival of the Girl important?

- 30% is the amount girls’ confidence drops between the ages 8-14.

- 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with family and friends.

- 74% of girls say they are under pressure to please everyone.

- 98% of girls feel there is an immense pressure from external sources to look a  certain way.  

These are just some of the reasons Festival of the Girl is so important. We want to support girls as best we can in a society of gender inequality and where girls are under huge pressures to look and act in a certain way.  

With this initiative we are focusing on girls aged between 8-12 years because we are aware how this age range is a pivotal stage of development for girls. So many of the statistics that highlight the many issues girls face are from age 11 and up so we want to help influence the girls as early as we can.  

Not to mention this is the age they make that huge transition from primary to secondary school and many will get their first phone!  It is clear that due to social media, societal and peer pressures that girls are growing up so much younger now and many events held in the UK are for teen girls and older. We recognise the importance of engaging and inspiring girls from this young age to ensure that they are realising their full potential.

What we want most from our events is for the girls to have fun.  If, on top of that, they also leave feeling inspired, energised and having learnt something new (in a non-school education way!) then that is amazing too.  

How do you define a good role model?

I’m sure this varies from person to person but for me a good role model is someone who is honest, open and allows themselves to be vulnerable. Someone who knows they are always learning and wants to share their experiences, failings and learnings. Someone who isn’t competing with those around them but is supporting and helping them. Someone who uses their voice for the good of others.

Who is your role model and why?

There are so many incredible women (and men) in my life who have and still are strong role models for me. Having surrounded myself and Margot with books like ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ I am always in awe of what these incredibly inspiring women are doing in the world. But the role models that have impacted me most in my life are those closest to me. Some of my closest friends, and my mum of course, are huge role models in my life.

But at this point in my life I would have to say that the strongest role model I have is my daughter.  She teaches me so much from her honesty and vulnerability to how she doesn't worry about what people think.  How she loves learning and doesn't fear failure, something I want to make sure stays with her through her years in education. How she is so open and playful.  

All of these things really inspire me. Not saying that the honesty can’t be a little challenging sometimes but having been someone who was always putting everyone else first and never being honest about my own feelings and what I wanted she certainly teaches me so much.

You say the festival supports carers to raise girls in a less stereotyped way, what in your opinion is the stereotype and how do you go about breaking away from it?

Research has shown us again and again that stereotyping starts in the womb.

I experienced this the other day when telling someone that during this pregnancy the baby has moved a lot more than Margot did to which they responded it must be a little boy footballer. Do you know how hard it is to buy a congratulations card for a baby boy that isn’t blue or for a baby girl that isn’t pink?

The stereotypes for girls and boys are endless and can be hugely damaging. For girls the stereotypes range from girls not being a strong as boys, girls can’t throw and are no good at sports in general, girls can’t be the boss, girls are supposed to be sweet and kind, girls are much more likely to be quiet and well behaved compared to boys and the list goes on.

Girls (and boys) are constantly bombarded with societal expectations of how they should act and how they should look. With this Festival, and as carers, we should show children a different point of view. With younger children we can expose them to a variety of toys from building blocks to dolls allowing them to choose for themselves. And the same with clothes.  

We can become more aware of the books and TV shows our children engage with. We can’t stop them falling in love with shows like Peppa Pig (or at least I’ve failed with this!) which is hugely stereotypical so can we read books like ‘She’s Not Good For A Girl, She’s Just Good’ to counterbalance the negative messages they receive. I also think the language we use is hugely important. It’s not always easy because we’ve grown up with these stereotypes ourselves but if we can just become aware that will make such a difference.

It’s certainly not easy especially as the girls get more integrated into society but the more we can work on this at home the more we can create a strong foundation for them to grow from.

What do you think are the greatest concerns young girls have today?

Societal and peer pressures alongside social media are so concerning for young girls today. The expectation to look a certain way is shown in the huge increase in plastic surgery by young women alongside body image issues and the increase in disorders like anorexia.

The pressure to achieve perfectionism is resulting in huge anxiety and mental health issues. On top of this there is online bullying and trolling. There are many other concerns but these are the ones that I believe are most concerning at this time.

What are some of the challenges young girls will/may face growing up and how can we help them prepare themselves for these?

With how our world is changing we need to prepare young girls for the effects of social media. We need to help educate them that what they see is not always real. Help them to be safe online. As I’ve said with stereotyping we need to show them a different point of view and be strong role models for them. If we can help them to be confident in who they are, build resilience from a young age, then this is an amazing start.  

Being open and honest with our communication with them, and very importantly listening to them, is such an important part. Being that my daughter is only two I will be learning as I go and hoping that the experts we have connected with Festival of The Girl, especially Book of Beasties, will help support me with this. We have to support each other as we help to guide our girls through the difficulties and challenges they face.

How can we better promote good mental health amongst young girls?

We have to stop this body image epidemic. A woman’s worth has always been related to her appearance and with social media this is only getting worse. This has to change.

Talking and communicating about all the amazing attributes of girls, none of which relate to appearance, is so important. It comes back to us too being strong role models and working through our own body image issues to help guide them.  

We need to be as educated as possible on social media to understand more what our girls are experiencing. Being present with other humans is so important for mental wellbeing yet so much of the younger generation communicate via phones. How can we get them off their phones and going out more?  

I am certainly not an expert on this and will be looking for guidance as my daughter grows older. It is resources and initiatives like Book of Beasties that I know will be a huge support and make a big difference in helping young girls and boys with building resilience and strong mental wellbeing.

How do you think Book of Beasties could be a beneficial tool in helping with this?

What really stands out about Book of Beasties is that they are approaching emotional literacy via characters that the girls can relate to and learn from. It’s a card game that they play with others so it is getting the girls away from screens and socialising with others.

The activities and games they play during workshops are teaching young people the tools of practices like yoga, mindfulness and breathing but in a way that is more relevant to young people.  

They are speaking to them in their language and there is nothing else like it out there. Helping young girls to learn through characters and stories allows them to explore their own worries and insecurities in a safe and nurturing way.

Festival of The Girl wouldn’t be the same without Book of Beasties. We can’t wait for the girls to get involved and have fun exploring the activities while learning about the Beasties.

For more information and ticket to Festival of the Girl visit their website here.