One of my favourite parts of working with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) is the creativity it allows. I’ve worked with groups of students and adults of all different ages and explored a variety of influences on body-image, self-esteem, and health with them. And while I have nothing against the remarkable grown-ups I’ve met while doing this work, it’s always the youth who amaze me most with their challenging questions and genuine curiosity. So often they’re keenly aware of the complexity and contradictions that exist around them, particularly when it comes to expectations of beauty norms for women.
One incident stands out clearly in my mind. While facilitating a classroom workshop for 12 and 13-year-old girls, I asked them each to share something that they loved about themselves. One by one, the girls, often shyly, more rarely boastfully, shared aspects of their characters or achievements that they liked. However, about one in every two girls seemed to find the experience painful. They stopped; smiled; looked down; and shrugged. For whatever reason, they seemed to find nothing to say about what they valued about themselves. This could have been an awfully sad moment for all of us. But, as I watched it happen, the girls managed to turn it around. Every time one of them was unable to respond to the question, their friends would pipe up on their behalf, shouting out things that made each other special and unique. The girls who had been unable to speak up came out of the moment smiling, and surrounded by support. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had.
Thinking about this now, in particular on this week that is bookended by Eating Disorder Awareness Week and Bell Let’s Talk Day, I’m struck by how much genuine friendship and support can boost self-esteem and help difficult topics get spoken about. Girl Guides of Canada brings young women together, and this builds friendships. Friendships, in turn, not only strengthen the capacity for compassion and conversation in youth, but they also build resilience. Taking risks, stepping out, making mistakes and having new experiences are all a part of this package.
When the National Eating Disorder Information Centre put together the Love Yourself Badge Challenge with the Girl Guides of Canada, we aimed to build connection, resilience, and self-appreciation. Each girl is given the opportunity to earn the badge by demonstrating though a series of acts that she likes herself – and they’re able to do so surrounded by girls doing the same. Over 6,000 of the Love Yourself Challenge crests have now been earned.
The work of learning to care for yourself, and for the people around you, helps build lifelong resilience when we start young. We can help guide young women in helping them to love themselves. But at the end of the day, my bet is that what they’ll remember most is not us grown-ups, but the friends that they made along the way – the ones that encouraged them to speak up, and spoke for them when they lost their voice. Here’s to keeping those voices strong.
— By guest blogger Jackie Grandy. Jackie is the part-time Outreach & Education Coordinator for the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.
Do you know a girl or adult member who would like to flex her writing muscles? Encourage her to pitch her idea and write a guest blog post for GirlGuidesCANBlog. We’re also looking for writers for these upcoming special days:
- The International Day of Happiness
- World Water Day or Earth Hour
- World Health Day
- Global Youth Services Day