One of these days, I’m going to stop reading the Daily Mail. Today’s article of rage was the one that suggested that Guides were leaving us in droves because of our “disgusting” new uniform. A new uniform for the guide section was recently announced. Like every single uniform ever issued since the dawn of time, there are bits I love, and bits I wouldn’t wear. Which might be why, as an organisation dedicated to empowering girls, we have a uniform that is so mix and match – to give girls a chance to choose?
That’s not quite the point though. The Daily Mail seems to have a giant issue with the entire of Girlguiding UK – from the fact we produce resources on self esteem and sexual health (what, you mean they’re not all out rubbing two sticks together to make fire?) to the fact that our new promise offers girls of every spirituality and none a chance to develop those beliefs, there’s not a lot we can do right.
And the problem is, the organisation they seem desperate to portray is not the organisation I know. Because Girlguiding has not only changed my life, it’s saved it. And that’s something to celebrate, not to insult.
I’m 16. Not particularly confident, underachieving at school, rubbish at games, experiencing the first body confidence issues that will later turn into something much more serious. Of course my family, friends, and church would help – if I let them. But I’m 16, and admitting to needing support is like climbing Everest – a literal impossibility.
On the other hand, I’m a young leader in Guding. And week in, week out, I’m supported to develop my leadership skills. I get to have fun in an all girls environment where no-one gives a stuff if I look like an utter wreak after a sleepover, and stuffing chocolate filled bananas is fun. Weekly, I get to make a real contribution to the lives of the Brownies and Guides I work with, and I’m constantly affirmed by the older leaders I look up to that I’m doing a great job and am an important part of their team.
Fast forward. Now I’m 20, and a total mess. I’ve dropped out of my place at a high profile uni, having mucked everything up pretty profoundly, and I don’t want to be alive. Frequently, I make attempts to change this, and get ever more angry when I wake up to realise they’ve been thwarted.
Someone persuades me to help out at a Brownie unit. I don’t want to get out of bed, much less spend time with chirpy 7 year olds, but I go. And I meet girls and leaders who need me as part of the team, who value me, who make it known that I have gifts they’re glad I have brought to the unit. I meet Luisa. Who takes my cynical, unmotivated self and recognises the person behind it. Who inspires and motivates me into completing my Queen’s Guide and Gold Duke of Edinburgh award. Who, like so many others in the movement, make it known that I’m part of the sisterhood, and I don’t have to be alone again.
I meet Tracey and Mel and Donna who run Girlguiding’s National Peer Education initiative, and who convince me I’ve got skills and I can make a difference. Vicky, who becomes chair and convinces me to become her vice-chair. People who believe in me, when I don’t believe in myself. People I can be scared with and cynical with and depressed with, and even then they don’t stop encouraging me and believing in me. Who become not only colleagues but friends, and who, even now, several years after we’ve worked together, are amongst the first to offer friendship and support when it’s needed.
The confidence from these opportunities gives me the guts to apply to represent WAGGGS – the World Organisation of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts at the Commission on the Status of Women. At the UN. So I get to meet inspiring and amazing women from across the world, and I get to lobby and make a difference on behalf of our 10 million members, and girls and young women worldwide. All supported by Bernadette, who somehow gives us confidence to do more than we ever thought we could (I am really NOT a natural public speaker!) and each other. 7 women from all over the world, with very different backgrounds, united by a passion for making a difference. And we did. And that’s what Guiding does.
The list goes on. A few years later, I’m heavily pregnant and very ill with it. And Vicky and Sarah welcome me into their unit and value me, even when I can barely make it to Guides. They make me feel a part of something when I’m at my most lonely. A year later, when my life feels overwhelmed by the needs of a small child and I’m desperate for some “me” time, Viv supports me to start a Rainbow unit, and offers friendship and love when I most need it.
And it goes on – I moved to Hastings knowing absolutely no-body. And who are my first and closest friends? Guiding ones. The person I took to the doctors when I needed to get my bonkers brain sorted out and was too scared to go along? Jenny – a guiding friend. The person that came to a sad and desperate scan with me after a miscarriage, and cheered me up and distracted me and gave me hot chocolate until I could get my head settled? Gill – a guiding friend. The person that showed up to my Brownie meeting when I wanted to hide from the world, and gave me hugs and let me rant and went out of her way to show me that I do make a difference? Dot – a guiding friend. The people that constantly send me messages of prayer, love, friendship, care, goodwill? Holly, Krystal, Emma, Mrs Jean, Vicky, Lizzy, Pippa, Rachel, Xanthe, Tracy, Laura, Lottie, Tracey…the list goes on…all guiding friends. It’s not that others don’t – I am ridiculously blessed with stunning friends – but that I simply don’t understand where the Daily Mail is coming from.
If it’s the “lack of traditional values” they’re worried about, they needn’t. Guides is still all about empowering girls and helping them to make a difference. We might have changed the method, but we’ve never changed the values. And they work. From my Brownies, getting over their natural fear of the unknown to sing at al old people’s home for those in various stages of dementia, to my incredible assistant leader Holly overcoming barriers to not only achieve more than she ever realised, but even to represent her country in the Special Olympics – these success stories are repeated all over the country.
And so what if our new uniform is too bright for other people’s tastes? I’m not a girl between 10 and 14. The uniform was designed in consultation with girls of that age. They wanted bright colours? They got them. Some of them wanted to look more girly? They got a skirt and dress. Some of them didn’t? They got the option of wearing other trousers. Because we’re about the girls, not our own preconceived notions of what people should look like. So we listen to our members and we try and do what they ask, even if it means disappointing some people.
The Daily Mail just is not portraying the movement I know and love. The movement that gives girls space to just be themselves, and that their self is not only ok, but cherished and valued. The movement that gives endless support to its members, where friendship is celebrated and where each person’s gifts are valued. The movement, that I honestly credit for being part of saving my life.