As our Imagine children’s festival gets underway, and with WOW - Women of the World 2018 on the horizon, children’s television presenter and journalist Lauren Layfield outlines six things you ought to know about young girls today.
Recently, I read that cheese is as addictive as hard drugs (which explains why my fridge is currently stocked with cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, mascarpone and some of that Mexican stuff with jalapeños in it. It may also explain my imminent heart attack).
However, there’s only one other thing I’m more addicted to though… and that is my iPhone. Today’s teenage girls are the same. Looking over to an adjacent table in Nando’s last week, I saw no less than seven teenage girls, all sat in complete silence, swiping away on their respective Instas and Snapchats.
It’s easy to call it anti-social, but for young girls that’s where life is happening. It’s where friendships are nurtured and romances blossom. Of course, the online world is full of pitfalls, but it’s barely different to when I used to race home from school and get straight on MSN Messenger. At least today’s teens don’t have to spend six minutes listening to that mad dial-up modem noise just to get online, nor get disconnected by your mum making a phone call in the middle of a VERY IMPORTANT CHAT WITH YOUR CRUSH.
2018 is an interesting time to be a young girl. Perhaps a scary one, but an interesting one too. Women across the world are speaking out on an increasing number of female issues, from Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, to pay inequality, to the lack of diversity in film, TV, fashion and more. Girls in 2018 are soaking it up and learning that they don’t have to accept the status quo.
I didn’t vote until I was 22. In fact, until then, I didn’t care much for anything outside of my own little bubble, which is a pretty shameful thing to admit with this, the 100th anniversary of the first women being granted the vote. I just didn’t feel informed in my teens; politics wasn’t ‘cool’. But over the past few years we’ve seen politics and pop culture cross over magnificently. There was 2015’s #Milifandom; the snippet of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s feminist speech popping up on a Beyonce song, and a Harry Potter child star becoming a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Young people are into it, and those in the world of politics know it - just last week, plans were announced to lower the voting age in Wales to 16.
I was filming with a 12-year-old girl last year and she asked me a cracker of a question. I’m applying make-up in the car (I use the term applying loosely; ‘shoveling’ would be a better word), and she asks ‘How come you’re putting make-up on?’
And I reply chirpily, absent-mindedly, ‘because we’re about to film something for the TV!’
Puzzled, she asks, ‘so?’
And I’m looking at her lovely little face, which has never been touched by the horrors of sticky, gloopy foundation, her blonde eyelashes which haven’t been blackened by the evils of mascara, and her eyebrows which she hasn’t drawn on with a £1.99 pencil from Superdrug and I realise… she’s wondering if SHE should wear make-up too. If Lauren wears make-up on TV, and I’M about to go on TV, then shouldn’t I wear make-up as well?
I felt rotten. I felt like I’d made her feel like her gorgeous face wasn’t good enough.
A big part of being a teenager is feeling like you look weird. When I was 14, I looked like a cross between Mowgli from The Jungle Book and a goblin. But in 2018, teenage girls are expected to have long hair and full lips, a tiny waist, the boobs and butt of a grown woman, clear skin, and to even look racially ambiguous. Photos have to be taken, edited and filtered and posted online. Which leads me onto the fact that…
More than two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls. Girls make up more than 90% of children admitted to hospital for eating disorders. Hospital admissions for self-harm are up by two-thirds among girls. The picture isn’t great, and social media and self-image certainly playing their part.
But there’s good news too
The week in which I write this is Children’s Mental Health Week. Last year the government published proposals to improve access to mental health services. And every week I read a blog or a social media post by a different celebrity opening up about their experiences. People are encouraging girls to talk and it’s starkly different from how mental health was treated when I was at school, struggling. Girls are clubbing together, helping each other out, recognizing when their friends are sad or anxious or angry and becoming part of a very real sisterhood.
For lots of young girls in 2018, Harry Styles is a living, breathing God-boy. The ex-One Directioner, now solo artist and movie star has transitioned from boyband cutie to being likened to the next David Bowie.
I was unfortunate enough to tweet (tongue-in-cheek, like);
Replies (from predominantly teenage girls) included,
‘Uh no lol’
‘Babe, it doesn’t work that way, sorry.’
‘No-one says Directioner anymore.’
And some rude ones that I won’t share on this article. Social media is a minefield and female fandoms are scary. Even when you’re trying to be nice online, still expect the #haterz.
Revenge porn is on the rise. Women and girls are the most vulnerable of those who fled violence in Myanmar last year. And the US, as we know, has entered a time warp where a giant orange toddler chips away at abortion rights.
It’s tough being a female in 2018, but today’s girls are streets ahead.
Imagine, our packed festival of events for children aged 12 and under runs from 7-18 February 2018.
WOW - Women of the World, our annual festival celebrating women and girls, and discussing the obstacles that stop them achieving their potential, takes place on the weekend of 7-11 March 2018
Lauren Layfield has presented CBBC since 2015, she can be found on your television trying to control a tearaway puppet dog, or on Twitter via @LaurenLayfield