A generation of adolescent girls will fail to fulfil their potential because they are so insecure about the way they look, it was claimed this week. A former head who has dedicated her life to giving girls confidence is determined to raise their self-esteem...
Lynn Marriott has been speaking up for girls since she was one herself - and penned an assertive piece for Jackie Magazine.
Her chirpy letter to problem page agony aunts Cathy and Claire got published. She cringes with embarrassment at the memory of her innocent youthful exuberance now, but fact is, her words may well have given thousands of angst-ridden teenage girls a confidence-boost.
“I wrote in praise of being tall,” she reveals. “I’d turned a corner in my life, having gone from years of hating the fact that I was 5ft 11in and feeling awkward and unfeminine to realising it was actually great being tall.
“I’d got myself a boyfriend who was shorter than me and felt really fine about it - so I wanted to share that feeling with fellow Jackie readers. The mag was our bible in those days; everyone read Cathy and Claire.”
Several decades on, the former teacher whose career took her from state school art mistress to fee-paying school headmistress - Lynn was at the helm when Brantwood, the acclaimed Nether Edge-based school for girls, was forced to close in 2010 - is still fighting for girls. She has launched a training and coaching service to help schools and colleges raise the self esteem and confidence of its female students.
Leap Frog workshops will see Lynn and an accredited local counsellor going into the classroom to cover a wide range of issues that affect young women and offer support and guidance. It surely could not come at a more vital time.
This week it was revealed that one in four 11-17-year-old girls are weighed down by so much pressure to conform to an image of how they should look, they are blighting their futures.
A survey by Dove found that a lack of physical confidence is widespread. More than half of the girls studied didn’t think they were attractive enough. Another 10 per cent described themselves as plain and even ugly and five per cent said they hated the way they looked.
Such is their obsession with the way they look, girls spend an average of 42 minutes a day working on their appearance, choosing outfits and applying make-up – almost as much time as they spend doing homework.
Negative comments about their looks from other girls were one of the biggest causes of their lack of confidence, the survey found.
It’s shocking stuff, but the statistics don’t surprise Lynn.
“Girls have always had a hard time with confidence issues and have always worried about their appearance, At 16 I felt so uncomfortable in my own body. And I saw girls suffering right through my 30-year teaching career.
“But undoubtedly today’s girls have it harder. The’s a huge emphasis now on looking as perfect as the models and celebrities on TV and in magazines.
“What do most girls want to be these days? A glamour model who wins the X Factor and gets married to a footballer.
“Girls in junior school think they need to start spray-tanning and have hair extensions. It breaks my heart.”
Social networking sites bring added pressure, she warns. “Girls feel the need to post pictures of themselves looking their prettiest and there’s a huge amount of bullying going on via text messages and online.
“We need to change the way girls see themselves. And we need to do it now,” says Lynn, a trained ambassador on cyber bullying and internet safety and a former chair of SYEDA, the Sheffield-based charity which supports people with eating disorders she became a volunteer for ten years ago after witnessing a growing number of state and public schoolgirls suffering ever more severe weight and body image issues.
While at Sheffield Girls’ high School as head of middle school she launched an awareness Wear It Purple Day during National Eating Disorders Week, an event which continues to this day.
She has big plans for her Leap Frog: “We will be there to help girls overcome the media pressure,” she says. “We offer staff training in how to spot eating disorders, dwindling self-esteem and victims of bullying and give counselling to the girls who may be struggling to cope.
“This is very close to my heart. Pastoral care, understanding how pupils feel and what external influences are influencing them, and giving them support to get through,, has always mattered more to me than getting them through their art exams.”
Her years of teaching, and the mothering of her three children (one daughter is now a film producer and a South Yorkshire police officer and her son is Maz Marriott, lead guitarist with former Sheffield band Little Man Tate) have given her an affinity for teenagers. But in addition, she has never forgotten how it felt to be a gawky and hugely self-conscious teen.
“I can sense the girls who don’t feel comfortable in their own bodies because I’ve been there,” she explains. “I got bullied at school. It wasn’t anything really bad; but the comments were enough to make me feel self-conscious. And my confidence took a huge knock when I was told wasn’t clever enough to achieve my dream of being a teacher.”
But one inspiring teacher told her she could do it. “You only need one person to believe in you to change your life,” she smiles.
“That made me champion the cause for other girls. I believe every child has potential.”
Lacking in confidence
Low self-esteem is so damaging girls’ prospects only one in three is confident she will have a successful career, the Dove study’s face-to-face interviews with 500 11-17 year-old girls from across Britain reveals.
Their low self-esteem will have a disastrous effect on their career prospects, warn market research specialist The Future Foundation.
It is claimed Britain could lose 319,000 future businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 women MPs by 2050 unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities.
The organisation used the interview results to make a series of predictions relating to future career paths and say the result is a reduced likelihood of them following aspirational career paths in politics, business and sport.
William Nelson, director of research at The Future Foundation, said: “Even among high-achieving girls, those with lower self-esteem were significantly less likely to be aiming for ‘high-profile’ careers in future.”
Dove has launched its Dove Self-Esteem Programme to try to change the way young girls perceive and embrace beauty. It is to stage self-esteem workshops in schools across the country.
To book a Leap Frog workshop, or to offer your skills, call 07734 176913.
Sad day dealt blow to self-esteem
Brantwood’s final day will forever haunt its former head.
The school’s closure, due to the RBS Bank calling time over its finances, forced 160 girls out of the classroom with just eight days’ notice.
It was, she says, a desperately sad day and a “crushing blow to self-esteem - for pupils and staff.”
“RBS didn’t see a community and did not consider the impact it would have on those girls forever. They lost their identity, their friends and an atmosphere that was so close, it was like family.”
“Brantwood was a non-selective school; two thirds of our girls couldn’t just walk into the city’s only other girls’ only school, the High School, which is selective. Also many of our pupils were from low income families and their fees to us were paid by charities.”
Brantwood is now a specialist school run by the Ruskin Mill Trust for children with learning and behavioural difficulties.
But the girls’ school ethos lives on in every former pupil, says Lynn. “You can take a girl out of Brantwood, but you can’t take Brantwood out of the girl. That school was like a step back in time. You would see older girls in the playground, turning a skipping rope for the younger ones.
“Our girls were confident and happy and much of that was to do with the fact that the school’s pastoral care was so good. We didn’t just focus on results; we built up each girls’ confidence. It was a caring environment where anyone could do anything.”
Teachers suffered with shock and loss of identity, too - Lynn amongst them.
“After several months supporting former pupils and staff I realised I felt like I was going through a bereavement and needed a new sense of purpose. It felt completely bizarre, having nothing to do after years as a working mother,” says Lynn.
Instead of returning to teaching she went to work for W.O.R.K Ltd, a Sheffield charity for adults with learning difficulties at Ringinglow.
She set about finding another avenue for her years of working with young people and her passion for championing self-esteem; another way to get the best for girls.